The YMCA Community Military Ball seeks to raise at least $250,000 to support and help local servicemen and women and their families, including free memberships to the YMCA and camp scholarships for children.

The YMCA’s support of the country’s armed forces goes back about 150 years, and on Nov. 10 it will hold an event to honor community heroes and support local military families.

The 2018 YMCA Community Military Ball at the Tucson Convention Center is a distinctive opportunity for civilians to celebrate with servicemen and women from all five branches of the military who have served our country, said Duncan Moon, YMCA of Southern Arizona associate director of marketing and communications.

“The connection between the YMCA and the military is one that goes back 150 years to the Civil War, when we began supplying medical care for troops. We have been cooperating since then. ... We like to say, ‘the military serves our country and we serve them and their families,’” said Moon.

Moon emphasized that the YMCA provided vital support for troops throughout the First and Second World Wars. During World War I, the YMCA raised $235 million for wartime causes and hired 25,926 YMCA workers to serve the military; it also provided support for those in POW camps and offered educational opportunities for returning soldiers.

During World War II, the YMCA partnered with other organizations to found the USO and operated many USO sites. Support continued through conflicts in Korea and Vietnam and the Gulf Wars, and is ongoing nationwide and locally.

Since 2016, funds raised from the military ball have provided more than 1,650 free memberships to the YMCA for military men and women and their families; more than 915 children of military families have also received scholarships to attend Triangle Y Ranch Camp, which offers a weeklong summer camp in Oracle and other camps year-round. It has also helped to fund swimming lessons for 300 children in military families at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

“The YMCA is a cause-driven charitable organization: Our reason for being here is to serve the community. Tucson is a military town,” said Moon. “These families serve our country in a very fundamental way: They are out there fighting for our freedoms and defending us, and if we are going to serve the community, it is important for us to continue to serve military men and women and their families and provide a sense of home, safety and comfort for them wherever they are. We want to provide services for them in tangible ways.”

That support is invaluable, according to Melvin “Butch” Morgan, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Tucson Chapter 106, and a member of the “Council of Heroes” who will be honored at the ball.

Morgan has a 40-year military background: He served as a Marine for four years, followed by two years in the Army, 10 years in the Air Force Reserves and the remainder in the Air National Guard.

“The YMCA has been helping military families for 150 years. It is really important. ... It makes it easier to do your job when you know someone has your back,” said Morgan.

He emphasized the YMCA is supportive of veterans and efforts such as the annual Nam to Sand Jam, a concert and camaraderie-building event that offers resources and support for veterans of wars from Vietnam through Iraq, Afghanistan and other places “where conflicts were fought in sand.”

Morgan said advocacy for veterans through diverse efforts, including private and nonprofit organizations, is vital.

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“In our political system today there are not a whole lot of men or women in the Senate or Congress who have had military experience,” said Morgan. “They don’t know what it is like. We can keep support going through the YMCA and other organizations and keep fighting and doing our best to make veterans known to other veterans so that ‘we leave no man or woman behind,’ which is our motto.”

That sentiment was echoed by retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Eugene “Gene” Santarelli, another member of the 2018 Council of Heroes.

Santarelli served 32 years in the Air Force, logging more than 4,000 hours in a variety of military aircraft, including 900-plus hours in combat in two tours in Southeast Asia. He also monitored operations through the United Nations in northern and southern Iraq. Since retiring in 1998, he has worked in various capacities with the defense industry, the state of Arizona and the city of Tucson.

Santarelli reiterated that fewer members of the general public have contact with the military, so they may not truly understand the sacrifice that service members make.

“Unless you have lived the life, you can’t understand the sacrifices that the family makes. It is a sacrifice not only for the military member but the family members supporting the member in uniform. They must put up with family members being deployed, with moving every 18 months to two years: They must put themselves subservient to the member in uniform, which is difficult and disrupts their lives,” Santarelli said.

Santarelli says the YMCA not only provides necessary support for military families, but also helps to provide much-needed education about the impact of the military through events such as the military ball.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net