When Army SPC Blair Thompson of Rome was killed in action in Afghanistan on June 25, 2010, his family was devastated.
When Army Pfc. Matthew Leyva of Cicero was wounded in action in Afghanistan more than a year later, they were spurred to action.
Julie Thompson, Blair’s aunt, and her daughter Kristi, captain of the varsity field hockey team at Cicero-North Syracuse High School, with the aid of Brian Doyle of Interform Printing, decided to create a T-shirt with “Support the Troops” yellow ribbons as well as the initials “BT” and “ML” on the sleeves. Leyva is the brother of former C-NS field hockey player Ashley Sochia.
“Kristi and I were just planning to do a basic clothing order, and due to the effects the war had on family and friends, we decided to do something to help out the troops,” Julie Thompson said. “Since Blair and Matt had a relation to those involved with the C-NS field hockey team, we wanted to do something in their honor.”
Leyva, a 2008 C-NS graduate, was wounded on Aug. 9 when he stepped on a pressure plate-activated IED in southeast Helmand Province, Afghanistan. His father, Ed Sochia, said Leyva was on a dismounted patrol and he was on point in his column when he stepped on the IED. Sochia said Leyva had to have both legs amputated at the thigh. He also sustained a significant injury to his left arm, lost the pinky and ring finger on each hand as well as more of his left hand and suffered a mild traumatic brain injury from the blast. He also has some small shrapnel wounds, which, given the severity of his other injuries, are relatively negligible.
“He’s recovering well,” Sochia said. “He’s got the will to move on and persevere. It was touch and go for a long time. He’s got extensive rehab in Texas still ahead. We don’t know when he can come home. It’ll be upwards of a year until he’s well enough to travel to New York to be home with his friends and family.”
While Leyva is recovering at the rehabilitation facility in Texas, his family – Ed, mom Rene, wife Raelynn and sister Ashley – have been at his side, which has helped his morale. What has helped even more is knowing what the field hockey team is doing in his honor.
“It meant so much to Matt, more than anything, that they would take the time to do that,” Sochia said. “I can’t put into words what it’s meant to our family.”
At first, the Thompsons wanted to donate the money directly to the Sochia family, but after talking to Rene Sochia, Julie Thompson reconsidered.
“At the time, money was not an issue for us, so Rene and Julie were talking, and they decided that the better thing would be to donate to the Warrior and Family Support Center at Fort Sam Houston,” Ed Sochia said. “It’s within walking distance of the Brook Army Medical Center [where Matthew was recovering], and it’s just been instrumental to us.”
The Warrior and Family Support Center provides services to patients at the nearby BAMC and their families, offering a place to take a break, watch a movie, check their email or get a cup of coffee. At the center, families and injured soldiers can connect with other members of the military and their families and receive emotional support and answers to their questions. They can also receive additional rehabilitation outside of the hospital, including learning to cope with life outside of the war zone.
“We couldn’t have come without their help,” Sochia said. “They got our family flown here to be with Matthew. We decided it was a great place to donate the money.”
The field hockey team was tremendously encouraging of the effort, Julie Thompson said.
“Kristi, at first, didn’t think the team would be supportive of the idea,” she said. “However, the response was overwhelming. She then realized how much her team truly cared. Seeing players, coaches, parents, family, and friends proudly wearing the shirts makes Kristi and me proud and thankful.”
Through sales to team members, parents and coaches, Kristi raised a total of $553, which was donated to the Warrior and Family Support Center in honor of Blair Thompson and Matthew Leyva.
Vincent Thompson, Blair’s father, said he was incredibly proud of his niece’s efforts.
“Kristi is a peach to do these things,” he said. “It warms your heart to see that there are some kids that really understand what it’s all about and to go beyond the fact that he was her cousin and what he did to understand how big of a deal this is. What Blair did and what thousands of guys and gals are doing, going and fighting this war with bravery and valor – she’s just as much a patriot as he is. She’s a wonderful little girl.”
He also had some thoughts on what Blair would say about Kristi’s efforts.
“I firmly believe that he can see us.” Thompson said. “I believe he touches us every day. He was such a special boy, and I don’t think I knew how special he was when he was alive. I know more now about how special he was. I believe he’s an angel. He can see what’s going on. He might say Kristi’s going overboard. He never would have wanted to be the center of attention. But I know he’s real proud.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.