Photo special to Alachua County Today



ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ On a holiday associated with many as the unofficial start of summer, the auxiliary president of Alachua County Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2811 knows differently. Since her son Staff Sgt. John A. Reiners was killed on duty in Afghanistan more than 14 years ago, she has honored his sacrifice each Memorial Day by serving veterans and their families.

VFW2811AuxiliaryPix2And her efforts have helped hundreds. Because Ronna Jackson not only keeps Memorial Day in honor of her son, but each and every day in tribute.

“I’m a mom just trying to keep a promise made to my son — to take care of his troops and his men,” she said of a vow made when the young staff sergeant was sent on his second deployment.

She reminded herself of that promise while at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, during the transfer ceremony of her son’s remains. It was Valentine’s Day, 2010.

“For years, I couldn’t think of Valentine’s Day as I did before,” she said. “It kept reminding me of one of the saddest times in my life.”VFW2811AuxiliaryPix3

On Feb. 13, 2010, Reiners and two other soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Carson, Colorado, were killed after an insurgent on a motorcycle detonated an improvised explosive device near them. Several others were wounded. The action also widowed Reiners’ wife, Casey, and orphaned his son, Lex.

In recognition of his bravery, Reiners was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He had earned a previous Purple Heart while serving in Iraq.

Reiners’ other awards and decorations include three awards of the Army Commendation Medal, two awards of the Army Achievement Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Air Assault Badge and the Army Ranger Tab. His grandfather — Ronna Jackson’s father-in-law Jay Jackson of Haines City, Florida, – earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart while serving two tours in Vietnam.

“The military and service were always part of our family,” said Jackson.

As a VFW post auxiliary president, Jackson continues this tradition. Around the combat veterans in VFW Post 2811, she experiences the camaraderie shared by those who’ve fought to help preserve the freedom of others.

Jackson’s responsibilities as post auxiliary president include organizing and managing dozens of fundraisers, dinners, breakfasts and outreach activities. By her own admission, she devotes approximately 20 hours each week above her full-time job.

This past month, she helped with the Young Marines recruit graduation ceremony, a cookout for veterans living at Gainesville’s Sunshine Inn, a post steak night, several canteen dinners, a post clean-up, an outreach with Grow Gainesville, and the Florida4Warriors, Inc. Nick Tilliman Silkies Memorial Walk.

She is quick to point out that none of this could be accomplished without her fellow auxiliary members.

“From the first day that I joined, I was welcomed with open arms of love and support from the entire VFW auxiliary and all of Post 2811,” she said. “They were also very supportive of me as a Gold Star parent. Any events or service projects that we do, they are all there to help and support for the good of the cause.”

In addition to her work with the VFW, the auxiliary president has volunteered with several other veterans service organizations, such as the American Legion, the American Gold Star Mothers, and the Military Order of the Purple Heart. She has also organized fundraisers and assembled gift packages for veterans and troops deployed overseas.

Her efforts and that of the entire post, said Jackson, help fulfill the VFW’s motto — ‘to honor the dead by helping the living.’

“I feel that my service to our heroes here in the Gainesville community help keep my son’s legacy alive,” she said. “I would be honored to keep working with our auxiliary to help those veterans in the post and in our community.”

Jackson said that her work with the VFW auxiliary is also helping heal her heart. During a Valentine’s Day outreach event for those living at the VFW Veterans Village in nearby Fort McCoy, she was struck by the happiness she brought to the former soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

“Many of the residents there haven’t any family,” the auxiliary president said. “But they’ve all served in the military, and that bond they share brings them together. A kind word, a handshake or a small gift goes a long way. For the first time in many years, I was able to enjoy Valentine’s Day again.”

Other Gold Star parents, Jackson said, could also benefit from meeting and working with veterans.

“It helps you take one day at a time, because every day is an emotional roller coaster,” she said. “You will have good days and not so good days. But you can take comfort in knowing that the community is here to support you, and to get you through this difficult time.”

Those interested in VFW Post 2811 and its Auxiliary can call 352-376-7660.

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Editor’s Note: Michael P. Mauer is a life member of VFW Post 2811. He served as an Army photojournalist during Operation Desert Storm, and was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf for his actions during the war. This year, Mauer won the Grand Award for top feature article in the VFW National Publications Contest.

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