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143d ESC supports Military Appreciation Weekend at Westgate Resort

By Sgt. John Carkeet IV | 143d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) | May 16, 2018

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Four Soldiers from Mission Support Element, 143d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), joined thousands of service members, veterans and their families who gathered at the Westgate Resort in Kissimmee for free food, live music and heartfelt fellowship during the second annual Military Appreciation Weekend Concert held May 5, 2018.

“This is the first time I’ve participated in a community event in this capacity,” said Sgt. Larry J. Sisante, unit supply specialist, MSE, 143d ESC. “I’m honored to represent the Army Reserve and show the community our gratitude for helping America maintain a properly equipped and well trained force.”

Westgate Resorts’ CEO David Siegel opened the property to more than 1,500 military families for a complimentary, three-night stay that culminated in a free concert that featured the Chris Weaver Band.

“We wouldn’t be here without our veterans and active duty service members,” said Siegel, who served in the U.S. Air Force for six years prior to creating his billion dollar business. “This is the least we can do, and I wish we can do a lot more.”

In the days leading up to the concert, Siegel and his team developed and executed a program catered specifically to their military guests of honor. 

“We welcomed our veterans and their families to our property Thursday [May 3] with a resource fair,” said Mara Frazier, vice president, community and public affairs, Westgate Resorts. “More than 20 local and national organizations joined us to connect our guests with valuable, veteran friendly resources such as family counseling and career transition programs.”

Following the resource fair, the guests received wristbands that gave them discounted or complimentary access to Westgate Resorts’ amenities to include free admission to its waterpark. 

“We also gave away thousands of American flags, military branch buttons and red, white and blue blankets,” said Frazier. “We wanted everyone to have fun during their stay, but we also wanted our veterans and their families feel special by showcasing their pride and patriotism throughout the weekend.”

Alongside the complimentary concessions and children activities, the 143d ESC Soldiers set up and managed two static displays featuring one of the unit’s Humvees and Light Medium Tactical Vehicle. The vehicles attracted hundreds of children, dozens of young adults and even a few veterans who climbed aboard the driver’s seat, donned an Advanced Combat Helmet and put their hands on the steering wheel. 

“It’s very inspiring to see people genuinely interested in what I do in the Army,” said Sisante, a native of Jamaica, New York. “They see firsthand that the Army is more than just guns, tanks and helicopters … it’s about Soldiers who have the skills and knowledge to manage, maintain and operate a wide variety of vehicles.” 

In addition to the dozens of songs played by the Chris Weaver Band, the concert offered a military flair complete with the presentation of the colors by Veterans of Foreign Wars Command Post 4287, the singing of the national anthem by American Idol contestant Alyssa Raghu, and a helicopter flyover conducted by the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office. 

“We went in to this weekend with high hopes,” said Frazier. “The magic of bringing all these people and organizations together under one banner is invaluable and intangible, and we thank the 143d ESC for helping us create these special moments by helping us connect our community with our former and current service members.”

“I cannot thank the staff [at Westgate Resorts] for their hospitality, said Sistante, who, when not wearing the uniform, serves as an operating room supervisor for New York – Presbyterian/Queens Hospital in New York City. “They gave us hot food and cold drinks … We even got to lounge in one the suites while we waited for the concert grounds to open to the general public.”

Among the long list of VIPs was Florida Gov. Rick Scott who shook hands and took pictures with the 143d ESC Soldiers. 

“I thank all of you for you service,” Scott said to the Soldiers. “We enjoy all of our right and freedoms because the uniform you wear and sacrifices you and your families have made.” 

The concert concluded with fireworks that illuminated the night sky, its colorful patterns bouncing off thousands of fluttering flags and smiling faces. 

“I met many of those same, young faces as they climbed aboard our Humvee and LMTV,” recalled Sistante. “I know in my heart that a few of them will one day enter a recruiting station because they were inspired by a Soldier they met at a concert in Orlando.”