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9/11 event supports local veterans, RISE monument

Mark Parker

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The Patriot Day Memorial event begins at the RISE Monument located at 515 22nd St. S. in St. Petersburg. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

A local nonprofit dedicated to honoring and supporting area veterans and their families is making up for two years of pandemic disruptions with its upcoming Patriot Day Memorial event. 

Remember Honor Support (RHS), in collaboration with the American Freedom Distillery (AFD) and the Warehouse Arts District Association (WADA), is doing what its name implies through its Patriot Day Memorial event. Held on Sept. 11, proceeds will benefit the RHS Heroes and the RISE St. Pete Monument, which features a steel beam salvaged from the World Trade Center as its centerpiece. 

Jo Brower, executive director of RHS, said she started the organization with her fiancé a decade ago because they believed in the importance of providing awareness to the community on the never-ending needs of Gold Star families, wounded warriors and first responders. 

“We were the pioneers in bringing leadership from MacDill (Air Force Base) and bringing together our first responders amongst our community,” said Brower. “To connect and reconnect and just share the love and support that our community has to offer one another.” 

Jo Brower, executive director of Remember Honor Support, and Joseph Votel, a retired four-star general and former commander of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command. Photos provided.

Due to the pandemic, Brower could not proceed with 2020’s event and had to cancel last year’s ceremony just days before 9/11. She rescheduled for Jan. 15 of this year but as luck would have it, the highly infectious Omicron variant began to sweep over the city, and Brower said she canceled again out of an abundance of caution for attendees. 

So, Brower set out to create a momentous event this year. 

Brower recently reached out to Scott Neil at one of her organization’s annual charitable bike rides. Neil is a co-founder of AFD and one of the first special operators to engage the Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11. All of the American Freedom founders are former Green Berets and part of what became known as the “Horse Soldiers” and the “12 Strong,” which is also the title of a movie that highlights the group’s extraordinary combat valor. 

Neil spearheaded RISE St. Pete, crafted by sculptor Mark Aeling, president of WADA. Its centerpiece, a rusty but sturdy nine-foot, two-ton beam, was not discovered until 2018 when construction teams erected a statue honoring the Horse Soldiers at Ground Zero. Before Aeling made it the focal point of the monument, Neil showcased it at the nearby Urban Stillhouse, which AFD owns and operates. 

The three decided to join forces for the Patriot Day Memorial event, which begins in front of the RISE Monument at 10 a.m. on Sept. 11. After an hour-long ceremony, the Admiral Farragut Cadets will lead guests to a reception at Urban Stillhouse, just a short distance away. 

“It’s just another way of sharing with our community that, hey, we can take these three organizations and come together to support those that are important to us,” said Brower. “I think it’s going to be a beautiful event in a short amount of time.” 

Despite Brower relaying that she put the event together in less than a month, RHS has already sold out all four VIP rooms – priced on a tiered basis from $2,000 to $10,000. 

However, those wishing to show their support can still buy tickets to the event for $25, and a combined admission that includes the reception for $150. 

“Had I had more time, I would have sold out the whole Urban Stillhouse venue, and it seats over 300 people,” said a confident Brower. “But we’ll do that next year because we really feel that this is a prelude of what’s to come next year and thereafter.” 

Due to her close relationship with MacDill’s leadership, Brower said officers from the base frequently attend her events. While nothing is confirmed, she is hopeful a four-star general will attend Patriot Day. 

From left retired Army Master Sgt. Scott Neil, co-founder of American Freedom Distillery, Army veteran Sua Tuimaleali’ifano and Brower.

She also expects a World Trade Center survivor to attend, in addition to some of the Horse Soldiers, local veterans and first responders. Those special guests, added Brower, will also mix, mingle and share stories with the public at the reception. 

Brower called Patriot Day St. Petersburg’s signature event for memorializing 9/11. The pandemic may have disrupted her efforts over the last two years, but she said similar to America, the organizers are resilient. 

“We want to make sure – I just can’t let another year go by without honoring,” said Brower. “And I just think it’s a great opportunity for the community. To have the RISE Monument, this beautiful outdoor monument, in our community is special.” 

While Patriot Day is a 9/11 event, like many people, 9/12 also carries significant meaning for Brower. In the wake of tragedy and uncertainty, she said Americans put petty differences aside to stand strong and rebuild. She called it a special moment that people should never forget. 

“It’s so important to express the resiliency of our country and how we got back on our feet again,” said Brower. “It’s affected everybody to this day.” 

For more information or tickets to the RISE Memorial event, visit the website here.

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