New York City
- Last Thursday night, the Wounded Warrior Project
(WWP) hosted its annual Courage Awards and Benefit Dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria's sprawling, art deco style ballroom. It was a true "red, white and blue 'God Bless America' kind of night," as Master of Ceremonies and former Bush
Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
said, dedicated to honoring and empowering wounded warriors.
Master of Ceremonies Ari Fleischer speaks to the crowd. (Courtesy Photo: Carol Seitz)
The celebratory event, sponsored by Under Armour
, kicked off with a cocktail reception and silent auction which featured items such as tickets to the US Open, a guitar signed by Taylor Swift
, and much more. At 7 p.m., guests were ushered into the grand ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria. Beautifully decorated tables filled the space, topped with red tulip centerpieces. The red stage curtains were illuminated by the projection of stars; the perfect backdrop for the podium on which several wounded warriors would speak.
The Marine Corps Color Guard marched on stage at the start of the program. Every eye in the room was tear-filled as they stood with flags of our nation and armed forces hoisted, while Daniel Rodriguez
performed the National Anthem. Known as "America's Beloved Tenor," Rodriguez is member of the NYPD and is best known for his haunting performance of "God Bless America" which he sung after the September 11 attacks. Upon hitting the last note of the song, the crowd erupted in applause and cheers for this hometown hero's moving rendition of America's anthem.
About The Wounded Warrior Project
To date 40,000 servicemen and women have been physically injured in the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan - 300,000 servicemen and women suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, 320,000 servicemen and women experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) during deployment. The veteran suicide rate has almost doubled since 2001, and from 2005 to 2009, there was an average of one suicide every 36 hours in the Department of Defense as a whole. These are the sobering facts about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As a result, the WWP has sought to help warriors identify and overcome their invisible wounds through the WWP Combat Stress Recovery Program. They also offer adaptive sports programs, benefits service, and educational and employment services.
As we fast approach the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, it is imperative that we remember that we are still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military hospital beds are just as full today as they were three, five, and seven years ago.
Chad Brumpton shares his story with the crowd. (Courtesy Photo: Carol Seitz)
The Courage Awards and Benefit Dinner was a sobering glance into the lives of surviving warriors, and a testament to the fact that the battle continues long after the warriors leave the battlefield. The battle continues to wage on at home.
The physical scars of blasts, burns and amputations were seen around the room. However it is the stigmatized, invisible scars of war, such as posttraumatic stress and traumatic brain injury that can have a devastating impact on a soldier's recovery. "Service members who return with visible and invisible wounds of war CAN recover and they CAN achieve amazing things in their lives," said WWP Executive Director Steven Nardizzi
The unsung heroes of this war are undeniably the caregivers of the wounded warriors. "I didn't realize how difficult it would be to be wounded," said one soldier during the dinner, "When heading off to combat my wife and I believed there would be two possibilities. I would either return to my family unscathed or I'd return in a body bag. I never thought about being wounded."
Aside from wounded warriors and their families, members of the FDNY and NYPD first responders to the 9/11 attacks were also in attendance, as well as several gold star military families who suffered the loss of a loved one. Of the over 70 tables and 800 guests at the event, one table in the front of the room, known as the Missing Men table, remained empty, to symbolize that those missing were there in spirit.
A Soldier's Story
One of the warrior's, a father, husband, and tank commander in the United States Marine Corps Chad Brumpton
, came before the crowd to tell his inspiring story. On Mother's Day, May 8, 2005, Brumpton was severely injured by an IED near the Syrian border, which exploded below his tank, right under his left foot.
"I was told it had to have been the equivalent to a 500 pound bomb," Brumpton said of the IED, "It ripped a fist size hole under the tank, through all the armor, directly under my left foot." Brumpton, who was initially knocked unconscious, tried to stand up upon coming to, however he could feel nothing but pain in his legs.
FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano accepts The Talkhouse Award For Community Service on behalf of the FDNY. (Courtesy Photo: Carol Seitz)
Brumpton had every bone in his legs below his knees broken from his ankles to his heels to his toes. He also had a broken wrist and thumb and four compression fractures in his back and spine. Aside from the physical wounds, he had nightmares about Iraq and the explosion for three years. He also suffered from deep depression and anxiety. "I felt guilty because I was in charge and two of my Marines were severely injured," Brumpton explained.
When Brumpton finally returned to the United States and was able to see his family, they arrived with a backpack given to them by the WWP. Inside were miscellaneous items he might need such underwear, a tee-shirt, shorts, and a calling card so that he could call home. "It was the first time my family felt like someone outside of the Marine Corps cared," said Brumpton.
After spending three months in a hospital bed, four months in a rehab facility, and having 19 surgeries to save his legs, Brumpton returned home. He was told that without an amputation he would never walk again, however on that day, he stood up and walked out of the hospital.
For two and a half years after his surgeries, Brumpton was taking medication constantly just to be able to walk without unbearable pain. The bone, muscle and nerve damage in his legs was so extensive and severe that in January 2008, he decided to undergo a double below knee amputation. After six months of rehab, he received his first set of prosthetic legs, which made him 6'4. "As a bilateral amputee you can be any height you want," Brumpton joked.
Bob Kingsley accepting the Tony Snow award with Ari Fleischer. (Courtesy Photo: Carol Seitz)
After the recovery, life began to get a little bit more normal for Brumpton and his family. He no longer was reliant on pain medication and he got to go snowboarding again. This year, he got his first pair of running legs, and was able to go running for the first time in six years. Perhaps most important to Brumpton, is the fact that he can run around and play with his one-year-old son.
To help other warriors from getting lost in the system, Brumpton has become very active in the WWP. He participated in the 2010 alumni summit and was then asked to be a part of the 2011 national campaign team.
"The Wounded Warrior Project logo depicts one warrior carrying another from the battlefield," said Brumpton, "As one of the warriors pointed out, the wounded warrior always starts out as the person on top being carried from the battlefield, but as they come through all the programs offered by the WWP, they'll wind up being the warrior on the bottom. I was that warrior on top, and now I'm that warrior on the bottom."
The Courage Awards
Fleischer addressed the crowd, and spoke of his journey to the White House under George W. Bush, as well as his experiences as White House Press Secretary during 9/11. He spoke directly to all of the warriors in the room, saying, "Thanks to you, those who would ever think about harming America have been and always will be defeated. Those who seek to take us on have been and always will be met by soldiers, by sailors, marines, members of the air force, and members of the coast guard. You are the men and women who answer the call and for that I say to you as an American, as a civilian, and as the father of two little children, thank you, God bless you, and may God always bless the United States of America."
The first award of the night, The Talkhouse Award For Community Service,, was established "to honor an individual or institution whose efforts personify patriotism, demonstrate compassion, and have helped to further the mission of the Wounded Warrior Project in support of the brave men and women of our armed forces," was presented to the New York Police Department And Fire Department of New York City. Accepting the award on behalf of the FDNY was Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano
, and on behalf of the NYPD, Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly
The most prestigious award of the night, the Courage Award, went to Justin Constantine who was shot by a sniper in Iraq. (Courtesy Photo: Carol Seitz)
Receiving the Tony Snow
Award, an award "designed to recognize a citizen in corporate America, the media, and/or the public eye who by their actions has made a significant difference in the lives of injured servicemen and women - and who has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to WWP and its mission" in honor of Tony Snow
, was country music legendBob Kingsley
Finally, the most coveted award, the George C. Lang
Award For Courage, founded in memory of George C. Lang
, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and friend of the WWP who passed away on March 16, 2005. "This year's award goes to someone who was injured in body, but not in spirit, who soldiers on in support of his fellow wounded warriors. Someone who in this case is bravely working to reduce the stigma of PTSD by speaking openly on his own challenges in rehabilitation and recovery," said Nardizzi.
Marine Corps member Justin Constantine
was on combat patrol in Iraq in October 2006 when he was shot by the sniper. The bullet entered his body behind his left ear and came out of his mouth. He lost all but four teeth, almost complete vision in one eye, his upper jaw, lower jaw and nose. He also suffered from a TBI and PTSD. Guiding him along his tough road to recovery was his wife Dahlia
, who was studying for a PhD in London at the time of Constantine's injury.
His immense bravery, courage, and ability to overcome the challenges he faced, without ever showing fear is an absolute inspiration to all. He is a nothing short of a real American hero. Constantine was greeted by a standing ovation and cheers as he approached the podium by guests bearing tear-filled eyes. "I know I survived something that I probably should not have. I get really choked up," said Constantine.
How You Can Help
The Waldorf-Astoria served as a gracious host to this year's Courage Awards and Benefit Dinner. (Courtesy Photo: Carol Seitz)
The Wounded Warrior Project Courage Awards and Benefit dinner provided wounded warriors, their families, and their supporters an opportunity to celebrate all that they've accomplished on their road to recovery, and bring much needed attention to the cause of taking care of our wounded warriors once they return home.
The WWP slogan says, "The greatest causality is being forgotten." Every one of us can do something to help and support our wounded warriors who sacrificed their lives in defense of our freedom.
If you'd like to help the WWP, there are many things you can do on a day-to-day basis that can aid in the mission of honoring and empowering wounded warriors. Educate yourself on warrior's struggles and spread the word through your community. Reach out to a warrior in your community, family, or workplace who you know is struggling. Raise awareness by encouraging employers to hire wounded warriors.
Here in the Hamptons, you can help by participating in the 2011 Soldier Ride
, which will be held on July 23. For information about this event, contact JoAnn Lyles
at firstname.lastname@example.org or 631-725-1788.
Go to www.woundedwarriorproject.org/
for more information.