Saint Leo Hosts Steel Mags Summit for Green Beret Spouses
July 28, 2017
They’ve been “virtual friends” via social media for some time, but this week, 19 members of the Steel Mags Sorority had the opportunity to gather at Saint Leo University for the inaugural Steel Mags Summer Summit.
The Steel Mags Sorority was founded in 2009 by the Green Beret Foundation to support the spouses, daughters, mothers, sisters, and widows of those serving in the U.S. Army Special Forces. Green Beret spouses maintain their families and households by themselves almost 90 percent of the time while their spouses are on active duty. They embody the definition of a steel magnolia: a woman who possesses the strength of steel, yet the gentleness of a magnolia flower.
The sorority now has nearly 400 members in eight chapters throughout the country.
Saint Leo partnered with the Steel Mags, the Green Beret Foundation, and Veterans Alternative, a nonprofit founded by Saint Leo alumnus and U.S. Army veteran Brian Anderson, to present the retreat.
Each day of the retreat had a dedicated theme: self-care, vulnerability, and resiliency. The women experienced many of the modalities offered at Veterans Alternative in Holiday, FL, including Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART), iRest (a type of guided meditation), and yoga. On Thursday, they made a trip to TreeHoppers Aerial Adventure Park in Dade City, FL, for team building and vulnerability activities. They also worked on leadership skills and techniques that they will share with their Steel Mags chapters.
“These are ladies who stand behind their Green Berets, and the Steel Mags and this summit give them the chance to share resources and enjoy the camaraderie,” said Angie Fennen, program coordinator for the Green Beret Foundation.
“It is like a sisterhood,” added Ali Bailey, Steel Mags project coordinator.
Steel Mags member Rhonda Neil of the Tampa chapter said, “Everyone shares their experiences. They all are very different, but they are similar in many ways.”
“While empowering one another, Steel Mags are a sorority of tough, resilient, focused, caring, resourceful, dependable women who serve to strengthen the Special Forces Regiment and their loved ones,” the organization’s website states.
Julie Huynh-Rusk was engaged to Sergeant First Class Liam Nevins when he was killed in Afghanistan in 2013. Since they were not married at the time of his death, she did not receive the same benefits and support as a Gold Star wife or parent would. The Green Beret Foundation helped her travel to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to receive his body.
“After Liam was killed, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a part of the Green Beret community,” Huynh-Rusk said.
But the Steel Mags have given her much support. “And I want to give back to others,” she said. “I feel like I have a lot to offer.”
Now, she is a newlywed, having married Staff Sergeant Shane Rusk in March. Rusk is deployed at this time.
At the welcome dinner in the Student Community Center boardrooms hosted by Saint Leo’s Office of Military Services, Brian Anderson told the Steel Mags gathered, “It is not an easy job [being the spouse of a Special Forces member]. Your husbands, my brothers, are not home often. Your strength is amazing.”
Anderson told the women that they would “change the world,” when they leave the summit as they will have gained more knowledge and skills to share with their Steel Mags chapters.
Dr. William J. Lennox Jr., president of Saint Leo, welcomed the summit to Saint Leo, and explained the university’s close ties to the military and military families, with more than one-third of the students being military-affiliated. He invited them to enjoy University Campus and, of course, to enroll at Saint Leo.