Mother, daughter honored for 40 years of service to Live Oak unit

Written by  //  December 22, 2011  //  Feature Stories, News

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Brig. Gen. Michael Calhoun presents the Florida Commendation Medal to Vivian Starling for her more than 40 years of service to the 868th Combat Engineer Company's family readiness group.

LIVE OAK, Fla. (Dec. 22, 2011) – When William Rufus Starling joined the Florida National Guard’s 269th Engineer Company (now the 868th Combat Engineer Company) in December of 1971, his wife joined the unit with him. For nearly 40 years, Vivian Starling has worked tirelessly to support the Live Oak-based unit’s family readiness group and in 1986 when her brother, Hilton Walker, joined the National Guard, her mother, Pearlie Mae Walker, became involved too. Her son, William Rufus Starling III, is also in the unit.

“The Soldiers are like family to me – brothers to my husband, the younger ones, our kids,” said Vivian Starling. “When my husband was diagnosed with cancer in 1989, they did so much for us.”

When Rufus Starling’s battle with cancer prevented him from deploying with the 269th in support of Operation Desert Storm, he transferred to the Camp Blanding Installation Support Unit, but the family still kept in touch with their Guard family in Live Oak. When Rufus was once again diagnosed with cancer in January 2009, almost eight years after he retired, the family received phone calls and encouragement from both units.

“Once you’re family, you’re always family in the National Guard,” Vivian Starling said.

Brig. Gen. Michael Calhoun presents the Florida Commendation Medal to Mrs. Pealie Mae Walker (second from right) for her service to the 868th Combat Engineer Company's family readiness group.

Vivian Starling and Pearlie Mae Walker, known as Granny Pearlie to some of the older members of the unit, supported the unit through deployments in support of Operation Desert Storm in 1990-1991 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003-2004 and several activations for state active duty. The two women have been integral to supporting the unit’s family readiness efforts by helping to coordinate events for various holidays, retirements and fundraisers.

Both women continue to support the unit, even after William Starling retired from the Florida National Guard in 2001 and passed away earlier this year. They were honored for their dedication and devotion to the 868th Combat Engineer Company, Dec. 11, 2011, at the unit’s annual Christmas celebration.

Brig. Gen. Michael Calhoun, commander of the 83rd Troop Command, the unit’s parent command, presented Starling and Walker each with the Florida Commendation Medal.

“I was honored and humbled,” said Vivian Starling. “I’ve done so little compared to the men and women who have given of their time to serve our great Nation.”

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