PEPPERELL -- A group of town residents decided to get proactive about supporting U.S. troops serving aboard, so they formed a committee, the upshot of which is the proposal they plan to present to the selectmen to place a "Support Our Troops" sign in a prominent place on town property.
They have a couple of locations in mind, including a small park across from a commercial plaza on Main Street and near the old library.
It all started with a Covenant that's made the rounds in Nashoba area communities over the last couple of years, the brainchild of a former post commander of the U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Devens, Lt. Col Nott, who is currently assigned to the Pentagon.
The Covenant, which the new post commander picked up and Pepperell selectmen signed in April, puts the obvious into definitive prose, stating that military men and women who serve their country overseas need and deserve a commitment of strong support from the folks back home, not only family and friends but their communities, which in turn draw backing from employers, educators, business leaders, and citizens. In other words, it's a partnership.
The initiative in Pepperell dates back to 2009, and was sparked by a similar move in Groton, said committee member Steve Themelis, who said he heard about it through his membership in the Groton-Pepperell Rotary Club.
In addition to Themelis, a former selectmen and current Planning Board chairman, the Covenant Committee formed at that time consists of Veterans Service Officer Joe Mazzola, who represents Townsend, Pepperell and most recently, Ashby; past VFW Commander Tony Saboliauskas, now running for state representative; and Town Administrator John Moak.
The four men met recently at Town Hall to finalize plans to take to the selectmen, with a request to mount the Support Our Troops sign, which will be created by town resident Jeff Cook, owner of Sights and Signs in Lomar Park. Bordered in red, white and blue, the big, bold sign will be modeled after the banner proudly displayed on the Townsend Common. It will have a space reserved for a click-in list of residents currently serving.
Committee members said they didn't know just how many Pepperell residents are now serving in the military overseas, but they'd love to hear from families and friends who can provide that information. Contact information may be found via a link on the town website.
After deciding the Covenant town officials had entered into with the Army was the right vehicle to accomplish their goals, committee members also determined it shouldn't be just one more framed document hanging on a wall at Town Hall, Themelis said. Instead, it should be viewed as a partnership with a common goal: Supporting U.S. troops serving over seas. It also opens opportunities for others in town to get involved, he said.
The sign will be paid for by donations from Covenant sponsors and won't cost the town any money, Themelis said.
Other initiatives may grow from this one, Saboliauskas added. One idea the group has been talking about would be to sponsor "Have a Soldier to Supper," a program to foster friendly, supportive connections between soldiers at Devens who are headed overseas and local families. They're working out details, he said.
Mazzola, the veterans agent, said his work outside the committee centers on helping Townsend, Pepperell and Ashy veterans and their families get the services they need. He's particularly concerned about getting the word out in Ashby, which was recently added to his duty roster. His office is in Townsend.
Given the patriotic tenor of the committee's stated goals, one might imagine they're all veterans. Not so, said Themelis, who is not a veteran but has family members who are. Moak said he's never served in the military, either. Saboliauskas said that's just the point. "You don't have to be a veteran to help," he said.