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Former NFL player honors Alexandria military children

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When Sgt. David Williams was killed in Afghanistan in 2012, his sister Emma Dockery searched for a way to honor his memory. Emma and her brother had grown up in a military family — their father was in the U.S. Army for 30 years. Looking back, she believes living in a military family was a wonderful experience. But at the time, it was tough, especially the frequent moves. “It was hard as a kid. It’s hard to say goodbye to friends,” she said.

So Emma and her husband, former NFL guard Derrick Dockery, started Yellow Ribbons United, a nonprofit that supports military families in Williams’ honor. The couple shared their story and thanked military children at St. Rita School in Alexandria April 10. 

According to Principal Mary Pat Schlickenmaier, 25-30 percent of St. Rita’s nearly 200 students are children of servicemen and women. 

After morning Mass, military parents, including Air Force pilot Col. Duke Pirak, chatted with students in their classrooms. “A mentor of mine many years ago reminded me of the fact that it’s not just us who serve — it’s the families that serve as well. Because in many ways, they’re making the same kinds of sacrifices that we make in the military, sometimes even tougher,” he said. “(My son is) in sixth grade, and he’s been to five schools. That means we’ve moved an awful lot of times.” 

“It often is the case that moms and dads in the military are gone for very long periods of times to dangerous locations, and that causes stress at home because kids have to wonder how their dad is doing, how their mom is doing,” said Pirak. “That’s why I really believe that children in the military are also serving their country. That’s their form of service.”

Later, all the students gathered for a freewheeling Q&A session with the Dockerys. Questions ranged from Derrick’s favorite food, to how to build virtue and which of the three teams he played for was his favorite. To the excitement of the students, the Washington Redskins was his answer. 

At the end of the assembly, cheered on by their classmates, all the military and foreign service children gathered at the front of the room for a photo with the Dockerys.

Seventh-grader Sarah Mehta was one of them. “It was nice that people understand that military kids have to also go through what the military parents have to go through,” she said. “I think it’s cool that people acknowledge that.” Being part of an Air Force family means she’s moved six times, both to places in the United States and overseas. “My favorite part is definitely moving and getting to go around the world, but the hardest part is definitely leaving friends, knowing that you might not be able to see them again,” she said.

Mehta lived in this area twice, attending St. Rita both times. It’s part of what’s made this her favorite place. “I have the most friends here and it’s a lot more welcoming,” she said. “The school is really nice and everyone's just amazing. It’s like family.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019