For Mark Goujon, heading up the committee to raise funds for an Iraq Veterans Memorial is a labor of love for the six teammates he lost during Operation Enduring Freedom.
“My motivation is those six people that I served with that didn’t come back,” the Air Force Iraq War veteran said.
Goujon served beside those fallen comrades on teams sent out to gather intelligence on roadside bombs and, after bombings, to seek evidence to determine who set off the explosives.
“With this memorial here, we won’t have to go to Washington, D.C., to honor them, and our kids and grandkids will know the effort we put into this,” Goujon said.
Army veteran Mike Zaffino didn’t serve in Iraq, but he was at the Pentagon the day the plane hit — Sept. 11, 2001. “And I had many friends who served and have fallen” in Iraq, he said.
Joining them on the committee to raise $250,000 for an Iraq Veterans Memorial in Veterans Memorial Park are Tim Lawn, who is in the Army and preparing to deploy to Afghanistan; Bosnia and Iraq Army veteran Mike Graham; and Iraq Army veteran Chris Harrington.
This memorial will be the second of 12 theaters of war set to be constructed at the park on U.S. 301 next to the Tampa Bypass Canal.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was completed in 2011.
Goujon wants to have the Iraq memorial completed in time to dedicate it on Veterans Day 2013.
If all goes as planned, visitors to the memorial will walk under the Hands of Victory, a replica of an iconic sculpture in Baghdad that has two enormous hands holding crossed swords to form an arch.
A Fallen Soldier Battle Cross — a pair of boots holding an M-16 upright with a helmet on top — will sit at the center of the memorial inside an outline of the Middle Eastern country where it all took place. On its pedestal will be a dog tag for each member of the military from Florida who died in Iraq.
Humvees, one like the lightly armored trucks used at the beginning of the war and one heavily armored vehicle like the ones used later in Iraq and Afghanistan, will flank the memorial. A barrier called a T Wall, used to delineate American outposts in the desert country, will stand nearby, with a mural on one side, which Lawn will design.
Zaffino is putting together models of the Humvees that can be used to promote fundraising for the shrine.
Two slabs now located in downtown Tampa containing the names of military members from the county who have been killed in both Iraq and Afghanistan may be relocated to just outside of the memorial.
Those slabs are in Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park, which will be part of the protest zone for the Republican National Convention in August.
“So, there is some urgency to move them,” Goujon said.
Families are being notified that a decision on whether to move the plaques to Veterans Park is being considered, county officials said.
Goujon came up with the general design for the memorial and Genesis Group, a local engineering and planning firm, volunteered to transform that vision into a rendering that will be used for the final design.
The community can help move the project along by purchasing bricks or granite tiles in honor of or in memory of anyone they choose. They will be placed inside the mostly sand-colored theater of war.
Engraved bricks, 4-by-8 inches, cost $50; 8-by-8-inch engraved bricks are $100. The 12-by-12-inch granite plaques, which can have a portrait, name and other information engraved on them, are $500. Other items can be purchased as well, including granite benches for $1,500 and 16-by-16-inch tiles for $1,000.
The committee is also seeking corporate donors to pay for the major pieces in the memorial. Donations are tax-deductible.