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RAC swimmers raise $1,045 for Army National Guard families, tour local aviation facility

By Mark Wineka
mark.wineka@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — In his youth, Command Sgt. Major Matt Shorter swam as one of the first members of the Rowan Aquatic Club, founded by Phyllis Steimel.

Today, assigned to the 449th Theater Aviation Brigade, Shorter oversees the two companies with 13 total Blackhawk helicopters that are connected with the N.C. Army National Guard in Salisbury.

But Shorter still has a strong connection to the YMCA’s Rowan Aquatic Club, and with his help, so does the Family Readiness Group of the Army National Guard.

In its annual Military Mile swimming event around Veterans Day, the Rowan Aquatic Club raised $1,045 for the Family Readiness Group, which supports Army National Guard spouses and children while their soldiers are deployed for a year’s time overseas.

Shorter himself has been on two deployments to Iraq and Syria — the most recent in 2018. He says the money raised by the Military Mile goes toward whatever layers of support families need while their Guard members are deployed.

The families left behind live in unique circumstances and the Family Readiness Group helps in many ways, Shorter says.

“It’s a big deal,” he adds of the support by the RAC swimmers.

Shorter’s daughter, Olivia, swam with RAC at the Hurley Family YMCA for seven years. Now attending the University of South Carolina, Olivia came home to swim in this year’s Military Mile with her dad and mom, Amy.

Matt Shorter gives Olivia credit for helping in getting RAC and Swim Coach Hannah Hawkins to adopt the local Army National Guard aviation groups. “She’s the one who really linked it all together,” he says.

This year, in what has evolved into a community swim, 80 people ranging from 6 to 82 years old, participated in the Military Mile — whose participants try to swim a mile in the 25-yard pool at J.F. Hurley Family YMCA.

“Some swim just a few laps and wear flippers to aid progress, while others paddle determinedly to length 66,” Hawkins says.

This past week, RAC swimmers presented their $1,045 check at the Army National Guard Aviation Support Facility, where they heard from both Shorter and Maj. Darrell Scoggins about the work of the Army National Guard companies stationed at Army Aviation Support Facility No. 2 in Salisbury.

The swimmers also got to look through night-vision goggles, sit in a helicopter and watch Blackhawks take off.

Hawkins says YMCA swim team members from Rowan Aquatic Club look forward to many traditions each year, such as a Hula-themed swim meet, the local YMCA invitational in Salisbury and season-themed relay nights.

But the Military Mile never fails to elicit nervous comments from newer families, according to Hawkins.

“It may sound like an aquatic version of one of those runs that has participants crawling under barbed wire and jumping over fire,” Hawkins says.

The event actually “morphed out of a tough senior (team) workout to honor veterans on Veterans Day,” Hawkins says.

“It is now a community swim in which a rest for participants is always an option,” she adds.

Hot chocolate and snacks are offered for post-swim recuperation.

Salisbury’s Army Aviation Support Facility is home to an assault unit (Company C 1-131) and a MEDEVAC unit (Detachment 2 Company C 1-126) The assault company has 10 Blackhawks; the MEDEVAC company, three Blackhawks.

Based at 1235 National Guard Road next to Mid Carolina Regional Airport, these helicopters and the Guardsman serving here are part of the state’s disaster response and recovery for events such as hurricanes and wildfires.

All are welcome to attend or participate in the next Military Mile, which will be held at the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA on Nov. 14, 2020 (a Saturday).

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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