Military families endure challenging hardships in support of our nation’s freedom.  When one service member enlists, the whole family learns what it means to serve.  Military families understand the risks involved yet remain dedicated to supporting their loved one. Sadly, research conducted by The Lucas Group found nearly 20,000 dependents have been left behind by troops killed in the line of duty over the past 35 years.  Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation was created in 2002 to extend peace of mind through college scholarships to Gold Star families in all 50 states, in all branches of the military.

Winona Brackeen is the surviving widow of U.S. Army National Guard Staff Sergeant Clifford Brackeen.  She says her husband is a hero who loved his country very much. When SSg Brackeen decided he wanted to re-enlist in the National Guard at age 49, Winona knew she needed to be able to support her family incase anything happened to him.  She enrolled in nursing school and has inspired her daughter Rachel to follow in her footsteps.  This is her story:

Clifford and Winona Brackeen.JPG

My husband and I met when I was about 15, he just got out of the army.  We would ride horses together.  Eventually we were married in 1979.  We raised 8 kids together.  Cliff was a Machinist in So Cal and I was a waitress.  In 1990, thousands of aerospace engineers were laid off, including my husband.  The only way our young family could survive was to move out of So California, so we moved our brood of 7 to the Midwest to Lawrence County Missouri. We bought a century old farm house on eight acres.  It seemed like the perfect place to raise a family.  Cliff had a gift with horses and built his business as the local farrier.  After moving to Missouri we had one last child, number eight.  Between raising teenagers and settling in to a new life in the Ozarks I landed a job as a rural carrier at the Post Office. 

In the meantime, 9/11 took place.  I could see that it broke my husband's heart being able bodied but "too old" to re-enlist in the National Guard.  In the evenings while watching the local news he would see men in their 40's getting a second chance to serve their country.  Cliff decided he wanted to do this too.  So in 2004 at 49 years of age Cliff began the process of re-enlisting.  Our 17 year old son Jesse Brackeen had just signed papers to enlist with the Marine Corp. Cliff wanted to do the same, serve his country.  Even though he passed his physical exam, Cliff would get excuses as to why he couldn't enlist.  It always came back to his age.  Never mind that his PT scores were better than the high school boys his daughters knew in high school!  Each night Cliff would watch the news and the events unfolding in the middle east and mourn the fact that the higher powers that be would not allow him to serve. After 2 years of petitioning military officials and making numerous phone calls, Cliff went to Washinigton DC.  By this time I had left the Post Office and had enrolled in Nursing School.  Cliff did push-ups (in February brrrr) on the White House lawn and found representatives to plead his case to.  After that weekend a State Rep from St Louis called Cliff and before we knew it lost military paperwork was found (his physical scores from 2 years prior) and Sg Welty of Aurora Missouri called and a ceremony was held to get Cliff sworn in before his son came back from his first deployment to Fallujah.  

The look on our son Jesse's face to see his dad in fatigues when he returned home!  It was an amazing day!

Cliff was deployed to Basrah, Iraq for 9 months.  He was trained to work on Blackhawk helicopters.  Cliff served proudly for eight years until his death Sept 28, 2014 when he was in a motorcycle accident on his way to Annual Training with the Missouri National Guard.  

In our eyes Cliff was our hero.  He loved his country so much!  It's been 4 1/2 years and I still miss him deeply.  

Military families are tough. They’ve been called the backbone of our military for good reason.  Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation is proud to support families like the Brackeens.  Rachel’s father showed her what dedication, honor, respect and self-sacrifice looked like.  She is now pursuing a nursing degree at Southwest Baptist University.  “My dad would be most proud of me for taking that first step.  I always said I would go to college to become a nurse, but I would never enroll myself in school.  Shortly after he was killed, I took the initiative to finally get the process started. I just needed to take the first step,” she explained.