Boat Donation Supports Fund For Fallen Soldiers' Children
FORT HOOD, Texas, May 5, 2004 - After Earl Bentz, owner of Triton Boat Company, visited the 4th Infantry Division last year, he left determined to do something for the soldiers involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Naturally he thought of a boat.
"As a loyal American citizen, I felt helpless. I thought, 'What can I do to support the troops and those men and women risking their lives for our freedom?" Bentz said recently. "I wanted them to know many people appreciate what they do and show them we stand behind them. And if the ultimate sacrifice is made, we want to protect their families and children."
Bentz contacted retired Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Cayton and his wife Laura, owners of Texas Boat World in Killeen. "After they deployed, he called and said he wanted to give a boat to raise money for the soldiers," Rick said.
The Caytons admit they were astonished by the gift, but weren't certain what to do with the boat or how to raise money with it. Texas law prohibits raffles, so the Caytons worked with the 4th Infantry Division Association to set up a ticket-for-donation plan to fund the Iraqi Freedom Scholarship Fund. The fund is available for children and spouses of the soldiers from Task Force Ironhorse who died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, said Ted Kostich, president of the local 4 th Infantry Division Association.
Laura said the idea for a scholarship came about during a meeting between retired soldiers and their spouses. "We had just gotten a casualty report and we thought 'let's do something for the kids and spouses,'" Laura said. " People were sharing different stories of families affected by the war. We thought 'What about the spouse with a child or a child on the way? What about the spouse not finished with her education?' Our whole point is to be able to help families. The idea for the scholarship evolved during the conversation."
Soldiers and volunteers in Central Texas collected over 21,000 donations for the boat. The scholarship fund currently has $44,000 and although a 4th Infantry Division soldier has already won the boat, people continue to donate to the scholarship fund.
"Our major desire was for a soldier to win the boat," Laura said. "A lot of people and businesses donated money and put 4th ID on the ticket stub. The computer then picked the name of a deployed soldier and attached it to the stub for the drawing."
"The best thing was when the name was drawn and a private first class with the 4th ID won the boat," Bentz said.
Pfc. Pedro Reyes from the 704 th Division Support Battalion, didn't believe he had won the boat in a drawing held during the 4th Infantry Division homecoming ceremonies at Fort Hood April 22. "I never expected to win the boat with my luck," Reyes said when he arrived with several members of his platoon to take possession of the red-and-white Triton TR-186. "I just thought it was a good idea to raise money. I bought the last five tickets my first sergeant had the morning of the homecoming."
Reyes said the scholarship fund was the reason he made the donation for the tickets. "This is a good cause. I'm fortunate to have both my parents," the 19-year-old Salinas, Cal. native said. "It's sad when a young child loses a parent."
Encouraged by the response to the Iraqi Freedom Scholarship Fund, the Claytons have agreed to host the donations and drawing for a boat Bentz has donated for the soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division.
"I'm committed to a boat for the 1st Cav. as well," Bentz said. After the 2005 models come out in August, "we'll make it available (for people to view.)"