LAUREL — Rocky Sickmann knows all too well the price of freedom and the importance of honoring American military personnel and their families.
Sickmann, a former Marine sergeant, spent 444 days in captivity at an American Embassy in Iran beginning in 1979 when Islamic extremists stormed the U.S. compound in Tehran holding 52 hostages.
“With freedom, you have no idea what it is when it is removed from you,” Sickmann said. “We saw in front of our eyes, the American flag being burned and that was a horrible experience.”
With the continued War on Terror and other conflicts that have resulted in the deaths of American service men and women all over the world, Sickmann, the director of military sales for Anheuser-Busch Inc., helped to kick off Fourth of July celebrations by delivering two educational scholarships to the Lake family in Laurel.
The scholarships worth $5,000 each were presented to the family of Sergeant First Class Floyd D. Lake of Laurel, who died in Baghdad, Iraq, while supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom on January 20, 2007. Andre Lake, son of Sgt. First Class Lake said, “This event means that we are not alone, and there are people that care. It’s also good to see a smile on my Mom’s face.” His sister, Tamila concurs and comments,“This has been an experience that I will never forget—it [the scholarship] will help me to better my education and do well in school.”
“The scholarships honor Lake’s bravery and dedicated service and it is a reminder that Budweiser hasn’t forgotten Lake and others who so bravely served,” Sickmann said.
The visit was accompanied by the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales and included a public celebration that featured Jerrod Niemann, who headlined a stirring musical.
As the famous horses made their way into town with an attached carriage, they proved to be the main attraction. Photos and videos were being snapped without pause as the well-groomed Clydesdales stood in formation and people young and old marveled at their braided manes and the fancy buns of their tails.
Attendees were also treated to a special fireworks display to cap the celebration.
The Clydesdales appearance is part of Budweiser’s 2013 commitment to donate up to $1.5 million to the Folds of Honor Foundation, which rallies to ensure that no family is left behind in the fight to preserve American freedom, Sickmann said.
Founded in 2007 by Maj. Dan Rooney, a former F-16 pilot and a decorated major in the Air National Guard, the Folds of Honor Foundation uses scholarships and other means of assistance to give back to the spouses and children of soldiers killed or disabled in service.
“We provide healing, hope and an opportunity for dreams to be realized,” Rooney has said. “We feel this is our duty as citizens of the greatest country in the world.”
Rooney was recognized for his work, and received the White House’s Presidential Volunteer Service Award and also was recognized as one of People Magazine’s 2008 Heroes of the Year.
Since 2010, Budweiser has raised more than $5 million for the foundation and has provided more than 1,000 educational scholarships to the families of fallen and disabled soldiers.
“Any time we can give back to those who put their lives on the line in defense of our freedom, it’s an honor,” Sickmann said. “Their selfless dedication to serving our country is just amazing and it serves as a reminder that we should never forget them. That’s why I do the job I do and love it because we are working to make sure they are never forgotten.”