SAT 18 SEP 2010
The weekend began with soldiers exiting their buses and vans at the Bluegrass Chapter of the American Red Cross building, after several hours of travel from Ft. Campbell and Ft. Knox. They were joined by OEF/OIF Veterans from Lexington VA Medical Center. These Wounded Warriors really didn’t know what was ahead of them or quite what to expect.
A short ride across town let them experience the pre-game traffic and fans walking to Commonwealth Stadium. The warm welcome at the K Club House and presentation of UK logo -K Club caps, dinner prepared and served by K Club members (exclusive membership open only to athletes who lettered in varsity sports at UK) was greatly appreciated and enjoyed. The excitement level was boosted by UK football lettermen and former NFL players Sam Ball and Randy Burke during “The Cat Walk,” right in front of the K Club House. UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart welcomed the Wounded Warriors to the UK campus and football game. He thanked them for their military service and sacrifices, noting their efforts make this college football game possible for 60,000 fans on a beautiful evening in Lexington KY, including these special Celebrity Wounded Warriors for whom it is a privilege to meet and host. Just after the start of the second quarter, the Celebrity Wounded Warriors stepped onto the goal line in the east end zone to hear the game announcer tell the crowd about their tours of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and Wounded Warrior status. On cue, the uniformed soldiers removed their berets and donned UK-logo K-Club caps and heard the eruption of applause and chants of “USA…USA…USA.” This heightened the excitement and enjoyment of the UK victory and helped our guests to understand why they were here. Many fans stopped the Celebrity Wounded Warriors under the grandstand and in the seating area to say “Thank you for your service,” during and after the football game.
SUN 19 SEP 2010 – HORSE FARM, TRACK AND MANSION TOURS and FAMILY PICNIC
Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms
Sunday morning was beautiful and serene as the vehicles drove through gently rolling hills of The Horse Capital of the World to arrive at the beautiful Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm (http://www.hillndalefarms/), at the invitation of Farm Manager Joe Ramsey. Celebrity Wounded Warriors were greeted by Aidan O’Meara, Stallion Division Manager, who told them more about the Thoroughbred breeding business than most people in central KY will ever know. Several of the standing stallions were brought into the courtyard and introduced to the assembled Celebrity Wounded Warriors. After photos at the Seattle Slew gravesite marked with a bronze statue, everyone saddled-up for a short trip to Keeneland Race Course (www.keenland.com).
Upon arrival, the convoy was met by Parking Manager Steve Webster who escorted the vehicles to VIP parking. The group was met by Betsy Baxter, Assistant to the President, who greeted the guests and lead everyone to the Equestrian Room for a delicious served lunch hosted by Turf Catering Company Vice President of Operations Mike Wolken, who thanked the Celebrity Wounded Warriors for their military service and sacrifices. A tour of the entire racing and sales facility was provided by Tour Guide Peter de Castro, who offered insider information about everything that makes the Keeneland Association unique in the world. During the walking tour, Keeneland President and Chief Executive Officer Nick Nicholson left the auction-sales-in-progress to greet the group and express his appreciation for their service to the nation and talked about the historic facility that offers the finest Thoroughbred racing and sales in the world. After a brief visit to the Keeneland Sales Pavilion to see the beautifully groomed horses being sold to the chant of the auctioneer, with staff dressed in tuxedos, the group moved to the barn area to observe buyers looking at yearlings before departing the grounds.
Sufficiently briefed about the Thoroughbred Horse industry, the group was driven to Spindletop Hall (http://www.spindletophall.org/), for a Military and Veterans Families Potluck Picnic, where they were met by 30 of their family members from Ft. Knox and about 140 people from the metro Lexington area. The group was greeted by General Manager Gerald Marvel, who led many of the guests on a guided tour of the large elegant mansion. Children enjoyed swimming in the pools, romping on the extensive playground and riding in the historic fire truck owned and driven by Lexington Fire Chief Bob Hendricks.
GOLF TOURNAMENT, HOSPITALITY HOUR, DINNER and CHARITY AUCTION
Connemara Golf Course
Twenty six teams were challenged by the rolling hills of the golf course. A paid foursome and one Celebrity Wounded Warrior tee’d off at 1300 hrs and finished in 5-5.5 hours, so everyone finished in time for the hospitality hour, dinner and charity auction.
While all of the golfers were assembled before Tee Time, BMAC asked all Celebrity Wounded Warriors to gather in the center of the cart area. All of their names were placed in a hat and COL Bill Lewis, drew three names. After each name was drawn, a new set of clubs and golf bag was presented to each of three lucky Celebrity Wounded Warriors. This provided a spirited start for all golfers. Many of the non-golfer Wounded Warriors rode in the carts and enjoyed the afternoon of hacking, whacking and camaraderie with Veterans, championship golfers and volunteers on the course. Based on their comments, it is believed that 50% or more of the non-golfer Wounded Warriors are ready to learn more about the game of golf and the fun challenges it presents to players of every skill level.
During the Hospitality Hour, SSG Steven Ellsberry, USA, made presentations to Gold Star parents Lloyd and Marge McMillan and several BMAC members with whom they had the most contact prior to and during the weekend. On their own, just before the golf tournament registration began, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) WTB soldiers from Ft. Campbell sent one of their members in a van to Wal-Mart-Nicholasville to buy flowers and frames. They made certificates by hand, on which each Wounded Warrior wrote a note of appreciation and signed their name, then the certificates were framed and presented in front of the scoreboard after the golf tournament.
During an open-mic period after dinner, five of the Wounded Warriors stood before the crowd and told what a positive difference this 3-day event made in their lives. Everyone present was awed by the statements the soldiers made to them when given the opportunity to take the microphone for a few minutes. Several people in the audience wiped away tears as they listened to the heart-felt emotions expressed by the Wounded Warriors.
We heard that many soldiers had almost given-up hope at times because they thought the American people were not supporting them as soldiers at war, especially after reading newspapers and magazines or watching TV news. One soldier said she had never been to a college football game, a horse farm, race track or golf course, so her life has new dimensions to be explored after coming here. She was very excited about the 60-foot putt she holed on the last hole of the day for her team. One soldier said that God surely is looking over the people in this community because it is the greatest outpouring of love he has ever experienced in his life. He said that based on this public showing of support for soldiers, he would now go back to Iraq, Afghanistan or any place else to defend this nation for his family and the people who made this weekend possible. One said that he is from Micronesia and joined the U.S. Army to fight terrorists and become a U.S. citizen. He said he absolutely loves America and Americans because it is a land of unlimited opportunity and if all people in Kentucky are like those he met this weekend, he may have found the best place on earth. Several said they have served in many different places while serving in the U.S. Army, but no where in their careers have they every experienced civilian support like they have seen and heard in their brief time in Lexington. Several told us they are going to explore retiring to Kentucky and asked our member UK Military Veterans Association officers present to help them understand the new G.I. Bill and how it works at UK. One said he would like to learn more about the Thoroughbred horse business and how he might work his way into the industry.
All of the Wounded Warriors beamed with smiles when they were presented with certificates that evidenced their promotion by Governor Beshear to the rank of KY Colonel.
Along with their new commissions, each Wounded Warrior received a copy of the first printing of a new book: A VETERAN’S LEGACY: Field Kit Journal, presented by the creators Jay McChord and Stephanie Clarke.
COMMENTS AND CONTRIBUTIONS
Several business owners and managers approached BMAC officers after the dinner event to ask how they can become members and get more involved. Three golfers spontaneously presented $100 donations to help with expenses of the 3-day event. They said they were at the UK vs. Akron football game on SAT evening and saw the recognition by the crowd chanting “USA…USA,” and were moved to help BMAC with its programs. This helps BMAC volunteers to validate what they do in support of the U.S. Armed Forces, its Veterans and their families.
BMAC received a call from a business member – sponsor who was so impressed with his Wounded Warrior’s ability to pick-up the game of golf in one round that he is buying a set of clubs, bag and shoes to send to the young soldier who played with his foursome. Surely, more stories are out there that we have not been told, yet.
SUCCESS BREEDS SUCCESS
By every planned measure, the BMAC OPERATION Wounded Warrior Weekend 2010 was very successful. The 3-day event with 10 activities was a test of joint operations – planning and execution – for the participating volunteers of the coalition member organizations and HQ BMAC staff (BAKER COMMUNICATIONS.)
For BMAC and coalition members, responses to the 3-day event affirm all of the volunteer work done on behalf of our armed forces, military members, veterans and their families who reside and work in Kentucky.
Most citizens do not fully know or understand the meaning of selfless sacrifice provided to this nation by its military members and their families. So much more can be done to support them. More civilians need to participate to let our young warriors know that they are respected and supported by their fellow citizens.
The work of volunteers through BMAC has barely scratched the surface of what could be done, but we have taken steps to do some of the right things. Our efforts have made positive influences on many lives and provided real benefits during the past 3 days alone. This past weekend is just the latest effort of BMAC, since 1995. We are busy planning for 2011 events and activities to honor and recognize those in training, at war and recovering from war, along with the warriors who have answered the call in the past and today serve the nation as Veterans.