A shoulder tap from above inspires 9/11 benefit
September 08, 2010
ASHLAND — Laurie Coffin calls them "angel taps" — those moments in life when a tap on the shoulder from above seems to radically change one's outlook.
It was one of those moments, Coffin says, that inspired her to create what has become the region's largest — indeed, its only — annual celebration of the servicemen — both two- and four-legged — who were compelled to put their lives on the line in their country's service following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The second annual benefit gala for overseas military K-9 teams hosted by Coffin's company, Noseworthy Real Estate, returns to the streets of Ashland this Saturday, Sept. 11, with a full day of demonstrations, performances, and activities planned in honor of the heroes, human or otherwise, whose sacrifices often go unrecognized.
For Coffin, the path that led her to organize the first benefit gala last year began with the death of her beloved horse, Whitney, whom she had raised from the age of seven months, and was devastated to lose.
"It was a really hard time," she said during an interview last week, explaining that Whitney's passing sent her into a deep state of depression and anger at whatever higher power had taken the horse that she couldn't seem to shake herself out of.
It was in the midst of her grief, she said, that she picked up a magazine given to her by a friend that happened to fall open to an article re-counting the tragic story of Marine Cpl. Dustin J. Lee, a Mississippi native who was killed during a mortar attack in Iraq's Anbar province on March 21, 2007.
What hit home about Lee's story, she explained, was the fact that his companion, Lex — a military K-9 assigned to detect roadside explosives — laid his body across Lee's, despite suffering serious injuries himself, to protect Lee from further harm until a rescue team arrived.
As she reflected on Lee's story, Coffin said she began to imagine her own nephew lying dead by a roadside in the Iraqi desert, and realized, with what felt like "a big smack on the head," that as painful as the loss of Whitney had been for her, she could have suffered a far worse fate.
"It opened up a whole new world for me," she said, adding that she set out, at that moment, with the conviction that she had to do "something that's positive" to support unsung heroes like Lee and Lex.
While she initially considered simply putting together a care package of her own for an overseas K-9 unit, Coffin said the idea of organizing a party to celebrate Lee's memory slowly began to take shape in her mind, and eventually "took on a life of its own" in a way that she still can't fathom.
This year's gala, she said, will be a street party of grand proportions, featuring a barbecue, music, an antique car show, a classic car cruise with DJ Denny Day, a 50/50 raffle, and demonstrations by the Hanscom Air Force Base K-9 Unit and New Hampshire State Police Troop F's K-9 team.
With both the state and federal government facing significant budget cuts due to the on-going recession, Coffin said she wanted to offer support not only to military K-9 units, but also to Troop F, which is struggling to care for its three canines with virtually no budget.
"I want to help them with that," she said. "I want to help our people who are out there protecting us."
Also making an appearance at this year's event will be Lex himself, who has traveled throughout the country since his return from Iraq, visiting wounded and disabled veterans.
"That's so huge," Coffin said, explaining that Lee's family endured an eight-month legal battle to gain custody of the dog that remained loyal to their son right up through his final moments.
Those attending this year's benefit gala are encouraged to support the cause with either a monetary donation or an item from the K-9 "Wish List" compiled by Noseworthy — collapsible nylon dog bowls; "King 3" rubber balls; large rope chews; K-9 shampoo and conditioner; grooming tools (combs, brushes, etc.); dog beds or pillows; K-9 toothpaste and toothbrushes; K-9 eye drops and ear wash; Advantix flea and tick treatment; salve for paws; and towels to wipe paws.
It is "so fulfilling," Coffin said, to be able to offer support to the military personnel who have sacrificed so much in the service of their country and its people.
"They change their whole lives for us," she said, explaining that her involvement with the benefit gala and in arranging weekend getaways throughout the area brought her into contact with one solider who was forced to put his wedding on hold when he was recalled to duty in Iraq.
Having members of their own community support them by organizing events like the gala or the "soldiers' weekends," she said, "re-inforces that we're there for them."
Although she still wonders at times why an angel chose to tap her on the shoulder the day she read Lee and Lex's story, Coffin said she is thankful for the life-changing experience that "angel tap" led her into.
The benefit gala is scheduled to kick off at noon and end at 5 p.m. on Saturday. In the event of rain, it will be pushed back to Sunday, Sept. 12, at the same time.