Monday, November 28, 2011

What I am Thankful for Today

If you are on Facebook, you have seen the daily posts this month --"Today I am thankful for..." etc.  I have not participated in this, however, today I will share one.

My brother-in-law Andrew reached out to me this morning and to Hope For The Warriors®.  A close friend's son was severely wounded overseas and has just been sent to one of the medical centers in the Washington, D.C. area.  Andrew reached out to me personally, hoping that we would be able to help this family.

At this point, this family is in so much pain emotionally, I am sure that they do not fully understand what their needs will be.  I quickly e-mailed several staff members in our northern Virginia office.  These staff members regularly visit the medical centers and this family is now on their list of people to visit on their next visit.

On my own, I can pray for this Marine and his family.  But today, I am thankful that I have an entire organization to call when our military families need help. 

I cannot protect our young service members from these tragic events.  However, when something does occur, I do not have to feel helpless.  I know who I can turn to and get help for this military family.  If you are reading this, then you do not need to feel helpless either.  To learn more about how we support military families, visit the Hope For The Warriors® website.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday's Photo

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Keith, John and Manny have fun during the NJ Run For The Fallen.
Photo provided courtesy of Paul Oberle.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day seems to lack an identity and value within our culture.  The day is so often eclipsed by the “bigger holiday” and is viewed as the first day of the Christmas season.  I am sure that I am not the only one who has heard Christmas music in the stores in the beginning of November and thought “Ugh--That shouldn’t start until Thanksgiving!”  Many of us start our Thanksgiving morning watching the parade on TV, listening to Christmas music and start the serious planning of our Christmas shopping.  Poor Thanksgiving Day cannot compete with a jolly fat man in a red suit.  There is nothing sexy or cute about pilgrims and the turkey just puts us all to sleep.   And even when we want to fight the “Christmas Cycle,” the commercials and stores have us thinking about what to give and what we want to receive.

Every Thanksgiving I am reminded of my Mother.  It was her favorite day of the year and because of her, it is also my favorite day.  It is the one day of the year designated by the United States Government to stop and give thanks.  No—not just say you are giving thanks—REALLY give thanks.  Thanks to family, friends, neighbors, maybe even strangers.  Another great thing about Thanksgiving—even though many people thank God on this day, it is actually a secular holiday.  So no matter who you see, you can wish them a “Happy Thanksgiving” and know that this will apply to them.  Who among us, after all, does not want to take a day to be thankful? 

Americans are doing a great job telling our veterans that they are thankful for their service.  Our troops are not treated as our Vietnam Veterans were—and for that, we are definitely thankful.  However, in the effort to make our veterans feel like heroes, there is a growing concern that people feel sorry for them.  In a recent article in the Washington Post “Troops Feel More Pity Than Respect” the journalist outlines some growing concerns for our wounded community.

On Veterans Day, Hope For The Warriors® kicked off its Giving Thanks campaign.  Corporations are encouraged to include our organization in the Holiday Party planning and individuals will be asked to consider a donation as part of their year-end giving.  But in all of our communication and our actions, we will be sure that we reflect not just thankfulness but also respect for our wounded service members. 

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my health, my ability to run, my children and my family and my friends.  I am thankful for a job that I not only enjoy, but feel like I am making a difference.  And of course, I am thankful to our service members—their service, sacrifices, strengths and resiliency. 

I hope that everyone has a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving Week!

Monday, November 21, 2011

What does Running have to do with Veterans Anyway?

I love to run.  It is a sport that is individual and personal and yet, when I cross paths with another runner during my morning trek, I feel an instant connection.  I have attended parties, feeling lost because I knew no one, until I found another person wearing a race T-shirt.  Introduce me to another runner, and we will have an instant conversation.  No matter the speed they run or the distance.

It should surprise no one that for the past two years for Veterans Day, I ran a race that honors our nation’s veterans.  The Rockledge Rumble in Grapevine, TX, has been going strong for 16 years.  Participants choose from a 15K, 30K and 50K.  The trail is hilly, filled with rocks and roots, and branches have been known to hit you in the face.

Before the race, there is a ceremony where every single combat veteran from every single conflict is called forward to be honored.  The pledge is recited and the Star Spangle Banner sung.  For me, it is a joy to be in the midst of a group that loves this country and doesn’t take our privileged life for granted. 

The race itself is personal and I don’t know how other runners relate their run to our veterans.  For me, I compare my aches and pains, my doubts and my strength, to our young service members.  If I stumble, I know someone in battle has stumbled.  On hot days, I know that the men and women in Iraq have withstood even hotter days.  On cold days, I think of our Korean veterans and the bitter temperatures they endured.

The best (and worst) part of this race is the end.  In the last half mile, the racer leaves the shelter of the woods and the well-marked trails.  Now out in the open, the fierce winds hit as you navigate along the rocky, uneven and course beach of the lake.  Legs carry you towards a finish line that you cannot see.  At the very end is the steep, daunting staircase that everyone has warned you about.  The announcer uses binoculars to find your race number and as you reach that staircase, he is already calling you up by name.  My pride will not allow me to take the steps slowly and I use the last of my energy to storm up the stairs…and swear at the announcer.  I hate and love the end of this race.
The bottom of the stairs--Rockledge Rumble 2010

It should be shared that the race director lines that staircase with American Flags.  There are 20 steep and deep steps.  In past years, he has placed signs on each step—last year, he listed each war and conflict and the number of American killed in action.  Two years ago, the victims of the Fort Hood shooting were listed on each step.  This year, the stairs are left naked, but the flags flap in the wind and at the top of the stairs, the finish line is marked with a flag from each branch of service.  From start to finish, the race honors our veterans.  Thank you to Tom and the organizers of this great event.
Almost done!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday's Photo

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Country singer, James Wesley, and I listen to Ryan Voltin's story

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Life-Changing Postcard

Veterans Day at Frito-Lay

This year for Veterans Day, I was invited to the headquarters of Frito-Lay, located in Plano, TX.  The company did an outstanding job honoring our nation's veterans and providing their staff the opportunity to learn how they can support veterans locally and nationwide.  Hope For The Warriors® joined other nonprofit organizations for this event.

The guest speaker was Rocky Bleier--best known as a former National Football League halfback with the Pittsburgh Steelers.  He played for the Steelers in 1968, and then from 1971 to 1980.  In that time, he earned four Superbowl Rings.

Rocky Bleier with Anne Woods, wearing his Superbowl Rings

Although his football career made him a legend, Rocky is more than just another football player from the past.  His time between 1968 and 1971 was spent in Vietnam.  He was drafted into the Army and in August 1969, while on patrol in Heip Duc, Bleier was hit in the left thigh by a rifle bullet.  Down in a rice paddy, an enemy grenade landed near him sending shrapnel into his lower right leg.  Rocky was pulled out of Vietnam and transported to a hospital in Tokyo for his recovery.

As he laid in his hospital bed in Tokyo, his doctors told him that he would never play football again.  Defeated and depressed, he wondered what he would do next.

And then came a turning point in his life.  Art Rooney, owner of the Steelers sent a postcard and all it said was "Rock - the team's not doing well.  We need you."

Rocky shared how this single postcard changed his entire outlook, his recovery and his life.  Less than 10 words on a small rectangle.  But those 10 words made him feel needed, valuable, and strong again.

Today, we rarely send postcards.  This form of communication has been replaced by e-mails, phone calls, and text messages.  Rocky's story is a great reminder of how important our words are to our wounded service members.  Do we look at their wounds and believe that their life will never be great, that they will never reach new goals?  Or do we look to our service members, knowing that the strength that led them into military service, can lead them down great new paths?  Do we pity them, or are we proud of them?  And as an employer, do we look past them or do we recognize their skills and hire them?

Veterans Day is about more than just thanking our veterans for their past service.  It is also about believing in their future worth.