Greenville Health System
Capt. Ashley Blessums presents the United States flag, that flew over Sharana, Afghanistan, and certiicate of authentication, to John Mansure, President of Greer Memorial Hospital. To the left are her parents, Bob and Ashley Blessums.
Staff at Greer Memorial Hospital join in the celebration commemorating Capt. Ashley Blessums presenting the United States flag that flew over her base in Afghanistan.
Capt. Ashley Blessums and John Mansure, President of Greer Memorial Hospital, enjoy a light moment.
Capt. Ashley Blessums has had only one order from her mother during two tours in Afghanistan.
“I tell her a lot of families are depending on you to bring their children and family members home safely to them. I want you to come home to me,” said Nancy Blessums.
“Whenever she is gone and come back words can’t describe it. I put my arms around her and it is the greatest feeling in the world.”
Thursday, Ashley Blessums stood beneath the Greer Memorial Hospital’s flagpole as employees embraced her for service to her country. It was a command performance to personally thank Blessums for a United States flag she gave to honor the hospital staff for remembering her and her fellow soldiers with care packages.
The flag was flown “in the face of the enemy” over the headquarters of Joint Provincial Reconstruction Team Paktika in Sharana, Afghanistan.
“This country is a great country. The flag means a lot to her,” Nancy said. “She emailed me to tell me what she was going to do. Ashley took such great pride raising that flag and folding it. She said that day was very serene.”
“It’s a huge honor for us,” said John Mansure, President of Greer Memorial Hospital. “We’re supposed to be honoring them and here they are honoring us. How cool is that?”
The City of Greer will honor veterans and active military at tonight’s Freedom Blast with a Salute to the Armed Forces at 9:45, preceding the fireworks. Blessums will be attending a Yellow Ribbon Reintergration Program in Texas this weekend.
Nancy Blessums is a nurse at the hospital and her husband, Bob, is a pilot with Med Trans at Greenville General. The Blessums’ family tree is rooted in the military dating back to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Capt. Blessums’ grandfather fought in World War II, her father, Bob, served in Viet Nam and her brother is a Sergeant in the Army.
“When I see the flag on a holiday (July 4, Memorial Day) I always think of my dad serving in Africa and Italy. I think of all the sacrifices my dad and many husbands have made. Some died and didn’t come home.”
The Blessums reared their children on a farm in North Dakota and instilled values that have served them throughout their lives. “Our kids worked very hard on the farm,” Nancy said. “We always taught our children to be very respectful and responsible. We never raised them to covet something and no matter what, we impressed upon them to go through with what they said they would do.
Nancy made duplicate photos of her husband, a helicopter pilot in Viet Nam, after he was shot down for the third time in one day. The photo of the rescue showed him sitting and exhausted after his ordeals. “I gave it to each of the children and told them, ‘anytime you think you are having a bad day, remember this picture.”
Patriotism resonates through Ashley’s soul. “I still tear up at the Star Spangled Banner,” she said. “When I see people salute the flag at a baseball game it makes me proud. Colonels and generals call us the ‘next greatest generation’ of soldiers. It’s great to a part of that.”
Ashley, 35, said the public’s support is appreciated. “People shake your hand, give you a hug, buy you lunch or a veteran will come up and want to tell you their story. It is an honor and my privilege to serve our country.”
Nancy Blessums routinely sent care packages to her daughter. Members of the hospital joined in the effort and maintained a steady supply line of goods – with home cooked items being the most premium to the soldiers. Breakfast foods like oatmeal and cereal were welcomed when Blessums’ unit stopped getting breakfast for a time in January.
Ashley worked in isolated areas in outlying camps and would often be gone for days.
Doritos and potato chips were as good as currency, Ashley said. “The chow hall didn’t have them and the PX would sell out as soon as they got them. We just couldn’t get any chips. When we did get them we used them as bargaining tools.
“When I was (in Afghanistan) we received care packages from people I had only met in passing,” Ashley said. “It’s very humbling to me. Letters from kids were super sweet. A 5-year-old’s drawing would melt your heart. At Christmas time, with a million things going on, people would still remember us.”
Nancy said her daughter enjoys reading and made sure to include books. “My mother would write inspirational notes on the pages and they would tell me how proud they were of me,” Ashley said.
The command staff also wanted to share how proud it was of Ashley’s contribution after one mission. A call from Afghanistan from Ashley’s senior executive frightened Nancy’s mother at first. “It scared the life out of us. He said we should be very proud of (Ashley). She prepared a battle plan that potentially saved a lot of troops lives against insurgents.”
“It’s the best feeling in the world when people praise you. Sometimes I don’t know if what I’ve done has saved lives . . . or put lives in danger,” Ashley said.
Ashley serves with the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion Airborne at Riverdale, Md. She is enrolled at American University to study for an Economic MBA.