- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 8, 2016

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Major Robert Hacker always knew he wanted to join the military.

When he was a little boy, he would wait for his father to come home from work, at the National Guard base in Kentucky where their family lived. As soon as he was old enough, he also signed up to serve.

“There was never ever an issue that he wasn’t going to do it,” his sister, Leona Smith, said. “He went in as soon as he turned 18. He always wanted to follow my dad.”

Hacker was scheduled to come home from duty in July of 1998, and would be accepting a designation as Lt. Colonel. Three days before he was to arrive, he was killed while on active duty with the Kentucky Army National Guard.

Smith, then 27, had just gotten engaged and had been trying to reach Hacker to tell him. She was at a Fourth of July celebration at their mother’s house when he called, less than a week before he died.

“I just happened to answer the phone and I got to tell him I was engaged,” Smith said. “And had asked him if he would walk me down the aisle. He and I were very, very close. And he was excited for me. I got to tell him and I think that was meant to be.

“He said no matter what, I’ll be there. So I felt like he was there.”

Smith will always carry the memory of her big brother, a man she looked up to so much. Now, she’s found a way to honor him through service to others.

She and a team of individuals at Kentucky Truck Sales and Century Leasing, where she does public relations, started Warriors Fore Freedom, a charity that gives to organizations that help service men and women and their families in times of struggle.

In its first year in 2015, the group was able to donate $30,000 to Kentucky-based USA Cares and Kansas-based Folds of Honor through a charity golf tournament. This year, their donation climbed to $40,000.

“They are tremendous people,” Alison Hedges, development coordinator for USA Cares, said. “(Smith) is a one-of-a-kind person and the group that she has gotten together with, they’re phenomenal people (and) all she’s wanting to do is make sure her brother is honored and that people, that military folks aren’t forgotten, those veterans and their families are not forgotten.

“And she does a great job at it.”

The organization works to make sure veterans and service people and their families receive help when they need it - paying bills for PTSD treatment; enabling people keep their homes, their cars, their phones; helping them eat.

“USA Cares takes care of military families that are in crisis,” Hedges said. “So what that means is any kind of emergency assistance that they may possible need.”

Since it started in 2003, the organization has responded to more than 85,000 calls for help. Hedges said they receive between 200 and 250 calls a week. Donations from groups like Warriors Fore Freedom help keep families afloat during hard times.

“When they come to us, most of the time they’re absolutely desperate,” she said. “We are the last place that they can go to for help. They are very, very proud and they don’t ask for the help that they need until they are so desperate they are about to lose their homes, they’re about to lose their car, sometimes their power has been turned off, their cell phone has been turned off.”

This has not been Kentucky Truck Sales’ first foray into public service. The business donates monthly to causes. This year, much of the focus has been through Warriors Fore Freedom. Co-owner Don Ashby said it only makes sense for him to give back in whatever way he can.

“I think when you’re blessed with opportunities that it’s fair to give back to the community, people who suffer every day because they don’t have a job, because they don’t have sometimes a place to lay their head or even food to eat,” he said.

As a proud American and retired military man himself, Ashby said it’s important to help those who have served to protect.

We just feel very strongly about that,” he said. “The freedom we have, somebody has paid a price so we can have that freedom. Taking all the politics out of it, our country would not be the country we were or are if we didn’t have somebody defending us and I think we take it for granted that it’s just a given.

“The military keeps us as safe as possible and we’ve done well enough (with the business) to make that be one of our strong goals.”

Smith said it means so much to her to work for a company with such strong values, that allows her the opportunity to help others in her brother’s honor.

“There are just not words to describe it,” she said. “He was my hero. He encompassed and embodied everything I would want to do with my life. He went out there and fought for his country and fought for his family and he told me one time that if he passed away just to know that he was prepared for that, but it was important for him to do what he did.

“I think he would be happy to know we were doing something to try to help people, not just be sad. And I am sad that he’s gone, but I think he would be proud to know that we’re trying to help other people. That was his biggest thing. He always wanted to help other people.”

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Source: (Jeffersonville) News and Tribune, https://bit.ly/2ftpUd3

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Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., https://www.newsandtribune.com


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