With Veterans Day fast approaching, Wounded Warrior Project leadership urged local business leaders to remember and support those service members who have been wounded in combat at a Nov. 1 Executive Night dinner held at Montoya & Associates in Jacksonville.
“More than 3 million men and women have served our country since the attacks in New York, Pittsburgh and the Pentagon, where I was, on 9/11,” Wounded Warrior Project CEO Mike Linnington said. “Those 3 million come back in need of integration into communities just like ours, and in many cases, those that are injured – especially with the invisible wounds of war – need help integrating. And that’s what we do, with lots of help from others in the community.”
Founded in 2003, Wounded Warrior Project’s stated goal is to “honor and empower” wounded service members through its various veteran programs.
“Our mission is very simple: to foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation’s history,” Linnington explained. “And that’s a very tall order—especially if you look at the generation before us that grew this country and the world into the democracy we all enjoy.”
Though no easy feat, with support from donors, Linnington said the organization’s programs are effective in helping wounded veterans to overcome their injuries.
“We connect warriors with each other, with the programs we offer and with the communities in which they live,” he said. “We serve them through a variety of free programs focused on mental and physical health and well-being, engagement with fellow warriors and economic empowerment, and we empower them to live life on their own terms.”
One warrior who considers his own story a testimony to the effectiveness of Wounded Warrior Project’s programs is Staff Sgt. Dan Nevins, a retired U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq.
“I’ll never forget that day,” Nevins said. “It’s Nov. 10, 2004, and we’re bouncing carefully down this dirt road, and it’s pitch black outside, eerily quiet. I remember my head was bowed in prayer, as it was before every mission, and then the silence was destroyed by the deafening blast that sent my 18,000-pound vehicle about 6 feet in the air in a ball of fire.”
Nevins described opening his eyes to find himself ejected from the vehicle, but with his legs still caught and twisted in burning metal. By the light of the flames, he saw that one of his good friends had been killed by the explosion, and when he looked down, he realized he might not make it either.
“When I reached for my legs, that’s when I felt it,” Nevins said. “I felt the unmistakable arterial blood spurt with every beat of my heart, and I knew that I was going to die. I was making my peace with God, I was saying goodbye to my wife and my then 10-year-old daughter. I was giving up.”
With the help of his team, Nevins managed to survive the accident, though his legs, ultimately, did not. Suddenly brought face-to-face with a reality he was unprepared for, he began to sink into depression.
“I didn’t feel like a human being anymore,” he said, describing his worries about what his family would think of him, and whether he could be the same person without his legs.
When Wounded Warrior Project approached him, however, Nevins’ world was rocked once more by the realization that he could still do the things he loved.
“I was snowboarding, wakeboarding, rock climbing, outrigger canoeing—you name it, Wounded Warrior Project was at my bedside, making me take opportunities to prove that my disability didn’t define me,” he said. “I got to define what the rest of my life was going to be like. I got to write the next chapter in the book.”
Now, Nevins gives his testimony as evidence that Wounded Warrior Project can and does help veterans overcome injuries of all kinds.
“I’m so grateful for this organization, because not only did they fulfill that promise that whatever I or my family needed, they’d be there for me, but they’ve honored that same promise for over 108,000 warriors and their families,” he said. “And that couldn’t happen without the people who support the organization—who are a mouthpiece that will tell people what an amazing organization it is.”