by Jessica Tomhave
The Military Network honored veterans, service men and women and their families at its sixth annual Veterans Day Appreciation Dinner on Nov. 10 at The Waters Church.
The event aims to celebrate and thank all military members and their loved ones for the service and sacrifices they have made. The Military Network is a local support group made up of veterans and active military members, founded by Sergeant First-Class Raul Muniz in 2018. The dinner was inspired by Muniz’s own heart-warming experiences with gifts given to him, everything from honor coins to coffee, as well as magical nights spent with his wife at military birthday balls. Those kinds of experiences, he realized, helped military members and families feel accepted, celebrated, encouraged and supported – and, thus, The Military Network was born.
The Network sponsored this year’s Veterans Day evening of celebration with the support of several area organizations, including Agape Warriors Ministry, Marine Corps League (Valhalla Detachment), Sartell American Legion Post 227 and Sauk Rapids VFW Post 6992.
There were 225 guests who attended, including Sartell Mayor Ryan Fitzthum and Minnesota House Rep. Tim O’Driscoll, a Sartell resident. The dinner was catered by The Great Blue Heron, the children’s meal by St. Cloud Chic-Fil-A. A group called “ONLYVESSELS” provided musical entertainment, and the guest speaker was retired Sergeant First-Class Mike Mills.
Mills spoke about the injuries he sustained in an improvised-explosive-device explosion while on tour in Iraq in the summer of 2005. Due to his injuries, Mills was medically retired a year later. He has gone on to endure 70 surgeries, a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. As a result Mills has committed his life work to “Operation: 23 to Zero,” spreading awareness on veteran suicide and prevention.
In addition to his inspiring message, the event also featured a community hour with this year’s group of 20 “Community Partners” offering supportive resources to military members and families. These Community Partners included Blue Star Mothers of the Wright County Area Chapter 13, Camp Gratitude and Voigt Johnson Homes for Heroes. Blue Star Mothers of America is a support group for mothers who have or have had children serving in the military. They offer friendship and understanding of a mother’s worry like only another mother can. Camp Gratitude is a place where military families can experience a cost-free week of camp in Minnesota as a gesture of gratitude for their sacrifices. Voigt Johnson Heroes offers the Homes for Heroes savings program that provides military personnel and other community service workers special benefits when buying or selling their homes.
One of The Military Network’s goals, said Muniz, is to create awareness of these Community Partners offering invaluable resources and services to military members and their families.
The Military Network, which meets monthly at The Waters Church, it is open to all military and their families, and church membership is not required. Please visit The Waters Church website for more information on how to connect with The Military Network, become a Community Partner or offer support of any kind to military members and their families.
In addition to the Veterans Day Appreciation Dinner, The Military Network hosts family nights and other appreciation events. Those events provide services, resources and opportunities for veterans to connect and serve the community and one another. They have partnered with Habitat for Humanity and built two homes for veterans in Sauk Rapids and St. Cloud. Muniz hopes The Military Network will expand to other churches as it has to Westwood Church in St. Cloud, and he welcomes law enforcement officers, fire fighters and emergency medical service workers to join.
There are members ranging in age from 20 to retired who share a common bond and camaraderie in their service to our country. As the 2023 Veterans Day Appreciation Dinner displayed, regardless of age, background or present situation, The Military Network is a safe and accepting place of togetherness and love for one another.