Last week, the Veterans Airlift Command held their annual dinner and fundraiser in San Diego, CA. A number of organizations that are involved in assisting veterans participated in the event.
For those not familiar, the Veterans Airlift Command is a non-profit organization founded to provide free air transportation to post 9/11 combat wounded veterans and their families. Through a national network of more than 2,000 volunteer aircraft owners, pilots and crew donating all of the aircraft operations, the VAC helps wounded veterans who often cannot travel via commercial airlines.
Our flight department at Carrington was privileged to transport a number of veterans and their families to the VAC event. Carrington donates aircraft to the Veterans Airlift Command as well as to other charities such as the Corporate Angel Network (transporting cancer patients to and from treatment centers). For the past three years, Carrington Charitable Foundation has also hosted a golf tournament to benefit the Veterans Airlift Command as well as housing projects to benefit the catastrophically wounded. Next Columbus Day, October 6, 2014, the Carrington Chairitable Foundation will host our fourth annual golf event to support the VAC and other charities focused on supporting our bravest.
This year, in addition to the VAC, Carrington Charitable Foundation raised money for the Gary Sinise Foundation and the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers joint venture — Building for America’s Bravest, building Smart Homes for our most catastrophically injured service members returning home.
Steven Siller was a New York City Fireman who was going off duty and heading home to Staten Island just before the 9/11 attack. When the first plane hit the World Trade Center, Steve Siller turned around, picked up his gear and ran back through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel until he met a fire truck. When traffic in the tunnel stopped the vehicle, he ran the rest of the way to the Trade Center. He ultimately gave his life while trying to save others when the second tower of the World Trade Center collapsed on top of him. Like all our men and women in uniform, in the military and in the emergency services, Steven Siller ran toward the danger rather than away and sacrificed his life in the line of duty.
The past weekend, my colleagues at Carrington, including our CEO and Foundation Chairman, flew several Wounded Warriors and their spouses home from the VAC event.
Our honored passengers included US Navy Petty Officer Taylor Morris and Danielle Kelly; US Army Spc. Andrew and Tori Smith; US Marine Corps Sgt. Michael with his wife, newly commissioned US Navy Ensign Monica Frazier; and our dear friend US Army Master Sergeant (Ret) John Masson. You may not know these names, but each of these soldiers gave their arms and legs to protect our freedom on battlefields half way around the world. Despite the challenges that these heroes face, they and others make time to help us support the VAC and other charities by telling their stories.
All of these heroes are multiple amputees who have been through years of medical treatment and therapy with many more years of medical care ahead. But each of them is now getting on with their lives, living with their loving families, and making enormous contributions to their communities, their comrades in the military, and our society. Like Steven Siller and so many others, these heroes lead by example. And they never complain.
One of the Wounded Warriors who has greatly impressed me is US Army Major Scotty Smiley, the US Army’s first blind active duty officer. He spoke at the Carrington Charitable Foundation event at Pelican Hill this past October. Captain Smiley grew up in Pasco, Washington and is a devout Christian. He married and then attended West Point, graduated from Ranger School, and deployed in Iraq. In 2005, while on patrol his unit confronted a suicide bomber and, in his own words, “my world went black.”
Two weeks after the explosion, he awoke in Walter Reed Army Medical Center blind and feeling utterly helpless but with his wife Tiffany by his side. Instead of diminishing his faith or his confidence, Scotty’s injury only strengthened his faith in God and made him want to live life to its fullest and share that inspiration with others around him, again leading by example.
In a new book appropriately entitled Hope Unseen, Major Smiley and his co-author Doug Crandall describe how this American hero has not only overcame his injury but has become an inspiration of all of the people privileged to know him. He became a father, earned a degree from Duke University, taught leadership at West Point, commanded an Army Company and won the MacArthur Leadership Award. Former Senator Robert Dole (R-KS) put it well: “His story is one all Americans should hear.”
This Veterans Day, as all Americans say thank you to our men and women in uniform, think about those Wounded Warriors who have mostly recently given their lives and their limbs defending our freedom. Many of the fortunate ones who survived the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and other theaters face long lives ahead. These heroes never ask for help, unless it is for one of their comrades, but they need our support, our time and our prayers.
I am proud to be part of one of the growing number of private organizations that is meeting the needs of Wounded Warriors with private money, suitable housing and transportation, and other services that make their lives a little bit better. People like Gary Sinise, Walter Fricke of the Veterans Airlift Command, Frank Siller of Tunnel to Towers and many others do this without government mandates or tax dollars. They do it partly just to say thank you, to give back to those that have sacrificed so much protecting our freedom, and simply because it is the right thing to do. Come get involved and help us in any way you can. If you want to find out how you can help Carrington Charitable Foundation, please visit http://www.carringtoncf.org.
And to all of our heroes, please accept my best wishes for a safe and happy Veterans Day.