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Military banner program could soon come to Irwin, North Huntingdon

By Amanda Dolasinski
Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Patriotic banners displaying photographs and names of local members of the military soon could dot streets in downtown Irwin and in North Huntingdon.

A military-banner program, pitched by Norwin Rotary members, would recognize active military members in both communities. Officials in Irwin and North Huntingdon will vote on the program during upcoming meetings.

“You can't help but choke up when you see the project ... when you see these banners of our hometown heroes,” said Frank Aiello, a Norwin Rotary Club member.

The idea blossomed when Aiello was on vacation in southern California and noticed military banners displayed downtown in a small community. When he returned to Irwin, he said, he immediately drove through downtown scoping out which poles would work to hang banners for local military personnel.

Combined with North Huntingdon, Aiello said, he counted 52 that had banner potential.

The banners, which are 22 inches by 47 inches, would feature a name and photograph of an active military member on both sides. The banners would be displayed throughout the communities from about mid-April through winter, when they would be taken down and presented to the families, he said.

“It's just to honor them and show them that we are thinking about them,” Aiello said.

Norwin Rotary members plan to put pamphlets in about 80 local businesses, banks and government offices. Interested families would need to pick up the application included in the pamphlet.

Members of both Irwin's council and North Huntingdon's board of commissioners have indicated their support for the project.

“It'd be a nice tribute for the community to have that,” said Lee Moffatt, president of the North Huntingdon commissioners. “Most people respect what these guys do.”

There are about 36,000 veterans in Westmoreland County, the second-highest count in western Pennsylvania. Allegheny County has the most, while Erie and Washington counties closely follow, said Matt Zamosky, director of Westmoreland County Veterans Affairs.

“I think it's a good program,” he said. “They lost two Norwin graduates in a short period. Anything to make them feel like they have our support is a good thing.”

In late 2012, the Norwin School District honored two of its alumni who were killed in action.

Lt. Col. Christopher “Otis” Raible, 40, died leading a counterattack against enemy forces Sept. 14, 2012, at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Raible, a 1990 Norwin High School graduate, began his career as an AV8 Harrier fighter pilot and went on to become commanding officer of Marine Attack Squadron 211 Avengers.

Three months later, Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas Checque, 28, was fatally shot during a rescue mission to save an American relief worker who was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Checque, a 2002 graduate of Norwin High School, served as a member of the elite SEAL Team 6, the same team that provided the service members who conducted the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

Both men were laid to rest in the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.

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