A group of wounded warriors on Friday began their fun-filled weekend escape with a welcome that one soldier called “heart-touching.”
Led by a police escort, the soldiers then headed toward The Brook Hill School in Bullard, where students chanted “U-S-A,” held signs and waved American flags as the soldiers came into campus. The school drumline also added to the festivities.
The wounded warriors later received a “Thank You” ceremony on the patio of the American Freedom Museum before taking a tour of the facility, which includes documents signed by U.S. presidents and more than 600 artifacts in 15 galleries where people can learn about each war the United States was involved in, beginning with the Revolutionary War.
During the ceremony, audience members observed a moment of silence for fallen soldiers and families and heard from Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Willis, who enlisted in April 1990, came to Brooke Army this year for multiple medical conditions, and will retire later this year.
“I think it's really cool because they (sacrificed) themselves for everybody — people they don't even know,” Brook Hill freshman Julia Troxell said as the soldiers arrived.
Brook Hill Founder Steve Dement added, “It's a great honor to have them here and recognize their service and sacrifice. Hopefully as they tour (the museum), they can see how committed we are to service men and women.”
It appeared that soldiers felt that sentiment from East Texans.
Capt. Marie Marin, 35, of San Antonio, called Friday's welcome “very overwhelming in a good way.”
Capt. Marin, who served in Iraq and is undergoing speech and physical therapy, said this weekend is one of her first outings from home, and she looks forward to interacting with people and getting out of her comfort zone.
Spc. James Seeders, 24, of Louisiana, said he heard about the four-day event and needed to get away.
“It means a lot to me to come out here and share (this) with fellow warriors,” Seeders, who served in Afghanistan, said. “I'm just happy to be here.”
Louisiana native Christopher Simms, a 50-year-old with the National Guard, said for him, Friday's welcome means “that the country cares about us.”
Simms, who was in a wreck while working as a gunner for a convoy, said although he is trying to manage back injuries, he's grateful he had the opportunity to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“These are the people we're fighting for and who love America …” he said shortly after getting off his plane Friday. “I know I'll enjoy” the weekend.
Friday's festivities marked the beginning of the pro-am and celebration.
Events continue today with a Sporting Clays Tournament and fundraiser at Rose City Flying Clays.
Dick Goetz, chairman and co-founder of Texas Wounded Warrior Foundation, said a few of the soldiers likely won't be able to participate because of the sound of a shotgun going off, but those who don't will be able to do something else such as fish, golf or tour the American Freedom Museum.
“We try to make sure we can comply with things for as many” as possible, he said.
Tonight, at KE Bushman's Winery and Celebration Center, there will be a military flyover, a parachute drop of American and wounded warrior flags and a concert with country music singer Randy Travis. The concert is free for active-duty military and reservist personnel and their spouses.
The weekend also features a junior golf clinic, 9-hole scramble and Golf Trick Shot demonstration by Chuck “The Hitman” Hiter on Sunday at Eagle's Bluff Country Club, according to the Texas Wounded Warrior website. Monday morning, wounded warriors will visit All Saints Episcopal School, followed by a pro-am tournament at Willow Brook Country Club.
Goetz said this weekend means a lot to the soldiers because a good portion of the soldiers haven't had an opportunity to go home since they returned from the war zone because of injuries they are being treated for at Brooke Army Medical Center.
“That creates a very special time for us to be able to bring them here and just show them a wonderful weekend. That's our focus,” he said. “We try to raise enough money to bring them in for the weekend and show them a good time, and with (this year's) activities, we think we will succeed.”