When Carry the Load decided to launch a Midwest Relay, Amber Helms was absolutely ready to step up. Not because she is Director of Operations for Heroes on the Water, and not because HOW is a Non-Profit Partner for CTL. It’s because Amber has a rich military family history that spans generations, making the opportunity to remember her family members one she simply could not pass up.
Amber’s father, grandfather and father-in-law all proudly served in the U.S. Military. She ultimately married a man who spent 20 years in the military and has many family members who serve in law enforcement and as first responders.
“I think that we must remember the sacrifices,” says Amber. “It’s a totally different thing when you’re in a peace time, but when there’s a war looming, that takes guts. My family had guts, and so I have to honor that, and I have to remember what they did for us to be where we are as a country today. Their little part made a difference, and so I’m going to remember them. I’m going to carry my dad’s dog tags with me. I’m going to have a picture of my father in law and a picture of my grandpa and remember that they were part of this process to get us where we are today.”
Amber’s march will begin this week, so let’s take a moment and honor those she is carrying.
Jearl Ernest Rolland
Amber’s father joined the military in 1965, when we still had the draft. Wanting a choice in his assignment, he decided on the Army, where he worked in a personnel capacity (much like Human Resources in corporations). He spent time in Vietnam, as well as various bases throughout the United States. Rolland was heavily impacted by his time in Vietnam; so much so he left the movie Deer Hunter before it was finished. Like many veterans, he never talked about his time in the military, but Amber knew it deeply influenced him.
Unfortunately, Rolland passed away at the early age of 59 from pancreatic cancer. He left a positive impact on the world outside of his military service and touched many in a positive way. He was a natural leader and gave folks a sense of importance.
“I remember when he got sick and passed away, at the funeral, I cannot tell you the number of gentlemen who came up to me and said, in tears, “Your dad was there when nobody else was. I didn’t even ask him to come. He just knew.”,” says Amber.
“There was one guy who told me that he was at work and he made a comment to dad that he was going to build a barn all weekend. Just normal water cooler talk. He mentioned that his help was not going to make it and was unsure how to get the job done.”
“Saturday morning, my dad and my brother showed up at his house without any question and helped build the barn. The guy didn’t even know what to say, but that was who my dad was. If you needed help, he went and helped, and there wasn’t ever anything in return for him. At the time of my father’s funeral, I didn’t live in Oklahoma. These gentlemen kept telling me if you need something, you find me in the phone book, because I will drop everything and come help you wherever you are. Because even all of that could not repay what your dad did for me when I needed help. That was who my dad was.”
“He was a big light that was extinguished too soon.”
Amber’s grandfather served in the Air Force during World War II. Amber remembers her grandfather talking about being heartbroken that he was away when her father was born and did not recognize him upon his return.
“My father was a lot like my grandfather – they both had a big heart for service,” says Amber. “When my grandfather retired from the military, he found his calling as a pastor where he helped people across Oklahoma.”
Amber remembers her grandfather have a contagious smile and laugh. He passed away at 94 and was ready to “join the party in heaven.”
“He was a really good guy who warmed your heart when you were around him.”
Amber’s father-in-law, Dave, came into their lives later when her husband found his biological mother in 2005. Amber remembers how Dave simply opened his arms, heart and family to them immediately.
“Dave took Rusty and I in as if we had been his own since the beginning,” says Amber. “He was a delightful man and embraced others in an open, friendly way.”
Dave served in the Air Force and Amber found that he and her father had been in some of the same locations while serving in Vietnam.
“It would have been cool if my father and Dave had met and been able to share their experiences,” says Amber. “Unfortunately, with my father leaving us too soon, and Dave doing the same at 63 from a heart attack, we did not get to have that meeting.”
“It’s rare to find such open acceptance. We were blessed to have Dave in our lives, even if for a short time.”
Who Are Your Carrying?
Carry the Load brings awareness through Memorial May and their national relays and rallies to challenge us to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day – honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our way of life.
Amber is marching in the Midwest Relay to honor her family, who while did not die during their time of service, still served our country with dignity and honor.
“I don’t want my family or any veterans to be forgotten. I think that we must remember their contributions and in particular remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice this Memorial Day. They paid for our freedom with their lives.”
Always Remember. Honor Those Who Served.