Honored Warriors & Distinguished VIP Ambassadors Team Fastrax™ Warrior Weekend to Remember 2017

New 2017 Warriors

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Air Force MSGT Daniel Blevins
(Purple Heart Recipient) MSGT Daniel Blevins was a convoy commander conducting Gun Truck security for convoys in Iraq. During a mission on April 7, 2005 they were escorting about 40 tractor trailers moving south. As they were passing through an Iraqi National Guard check point an IED was detonated on his vehicle, injuring himself and two others.

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Army SSG Paul Brondhaver
(Purple Heart Recipient) SSG Paul Brondhaver is a native of New Richmond, Ohio, a small town located 20 miles east of Cincinnati on the banks of the Ohio River. Paul joined the United States Army at age 17, before graduating from New Richmond High School in May 1986. He earned a Bachelor's Degree in Arts and Science from the University of Cincinnati. Paul has earned his Master’s in Business Administration in 2013 from Indiana Wesleyan University. Paul has been a Red Cross volunteer and instructor for 31 years. Paul retired from the United States Army in 2007 with 21 years of service. SSG Paul Brondhaver has traveled all over the world through his military service to places such as Honduras, Germany, Panama, Kuwait, and Iraq. His state and country called on him to serve on active duty for 12 different missions and operations. He served with the 216th Combat Engineer Unit and the 1st Infantry Division in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003 through 2005. SSG Brondhaver’s tour ended early when his combat patrol was attacked with small arms fire and a rocket propelled grenade that exploded near his Humvee in Summara, North of Baghdad, Iraq in July 2004. Paul’s body was riddled with over 300 pieces of metal shrapnel in the attack, while a fellow soldier and friend was killed in the explosion. Paul has hearing loss, severe nerve damage in his legs, a traumatic brain injury, and severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Paul has undergone over 35 operations and procedures, removing shrapnel and repairing joints, tendons, ligaments, and re-attaching pelvis. SSG Paul Brondhaver's military awards include 4 Army Commendation Medals, 3 Army Achievement Medals, Humanitarian Service Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Bronze Star with Valor, and The Purple Heart.

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Marine SGT LaFayette Bronston
(Purple Heart Recipient) Bio Pending

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Army MAJ Vincent Cerchione
(Combat Injured) MAJ Vincent Cerchione has served 4 different deployments, 2 to Iraq. He suffers from severe PTSD, TBI, Audio Processing Disorder, Degenerative Disc Disease, Short term Memory Loss, 2 spinal surgeries (one a fusion), Audiobook Brain Stem Dysfunction, and service related hearing loss.

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Army SGT Spencer Davis
(Purple Heart Recipient) SGT E-5 Spencer Davis was hit with an I.E.D Blast 9-22-2005, 11:50PM while on a mounted patrol during OIF III as part of a Tactical Movement Team. He performed many night Ops, and LRP missions. Davis took small frags to his left hand, a compression injury to neck, hip impingement to both hips, liver damage, PTSD, etc. He told the medics he would kick their a** if they told anyone after bandages and shrapnel found in my living quarters by my female Battle Buddy while he did the 3 S's. He was treated and has continued treatment by V.A. in Columbus, Ohio and Physical therapy in Bellefontaine, Ohio as needed.

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Army CPL Sue Downes
(Purple Heart Recipient) CPL Sue Downes, 10th Mountain Division 554th Military Police Division. Downes from Tazewell, Tenn. Downes was awarded a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, the Army Achievement Medal and the Combat Action Badge for her service. She sustained serious injuries — including the loss of both of her legs — in Afghanistan. A mother of two, she served with a military police unit in Logar Province, Afghanistan. She volunteered to be gunner on a humanitarian mission, delivering rice and beans to a remote village. Downes normally served as a driver. "It was a peaceful, nice day," Downes recalls. "I was just looking at the mountains, because Afghanistan has really pretty scenery in some places. ... I remember seeing the snowflakes falling down, because it started snowing." Her last memory of that day is of the driver of her truck shifting into gear to go up a steep mountain. When she woke up, she was in Landstuhl Hospital in Germany. Downes' truck had hit two anti-tank mines, killing two people. The impact twisted the truck like a washcloth, Downes was later told. She ended up under the turret shield. Because it was snowing heavily, she couldn't be flown out of the region. Instead, she was taken by truck to a nearby Greek-run NATO hospital. There, doctors performed surgery on her lacerated liver and intestines. They also amputated both of her legs.

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Army SSgt. Travis Dunn
(Purple Heart Recipient) (2) Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal with Valor. While stationed with Hunter Army Airfield-based Bravo Company 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment and deployed, on Dec. 2, 2014 to Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, with three enemy fighters firing on the combined assault team of U.S. Army Rangers and Afghan commandos, then-Sgt. Travis Dunn moved toward the targets, laying down suppressive fire that allowed his teammates to move into a better position. Dunn, who during the firefight was shot in the upper torso and fell from an embankment into a courtyard below where he was rescued by Anderson, was also presented the Purple Heart, his second. The Army’s official record of those Rangers’ actions that day only tell a portion of the story of his troops, said battalion commander Lt. Col. Brandon Tegtmeier, “The citations ... don’t even come close to expressing the significance of these Rangers’ actions,” Tegtmeier said. “These citations don’t come close because the actions ... come from years of preparation, years of sweat, pain, discomfort, sometimes blood, frustration, sometimes failure, followed by success and achievement. “Rangers will go anywhere, anytime, under any conditions to protect our country, our people and our freedom. Of this you can be sure today, tomorrow and for thousands of tomorrows to come.”

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Marine CPL John Fleegel
(Purple Heart Recipient) While conducting operations in Anbar Provence outside of Al Karma, Iraq the vehicle CPL John Fleegel was traveling in was struck by a road side bomb (IED). He, along with 13 others, were ejected from the vehicle. Along with a severe concussion and some minor shrapnel wounds, he suffered spinal and wrist contusions.

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MO Air National Guard SSGT Troy Green
(Purple Heart Recipient) During operations in Jalalabad, Afghanistan Ssgt Troy Green suffered a severe concussion and mild TBI as well as 3 fractured vertebrate. Injuries were sustained during an attack on his FOB, initiated by a 300 lb. VBIED.

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Army E4-SPC Daniel Guerin
(Purple Heart Recipient) Army E4-SPC Daniel Guerin was injured by a hand grenade thrown by the enemy. He also has a TBI due to IED blasts.

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Marine CPL Rory Hamill
(Purple Heart Recipient) When CPL Rory Hamill was deployed to Marjah, Afghanistan for his third tour, his squad received on the ground intel that there was an IED in a compound near their position. The squad set up security around the site, he took the minesweeper off his pointman's back, swept three quarters of the compound before stepping on a low metallic pressure plate, setting off 20 lbs. of homemade explosives buried five feet behind him. Instantly his leg was sheared off, and he tried to initiate self-aid until his brothers got to him. After being worked on by the Corpsman and loaded on the MEDIVAC, he flat-lined for 2 minutes on the way to the Shock Trauma Unit at Camp Bastion/Camp Leatherneck.

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USN SRC Senior Chief James Hatch
(Purple Heart Recipient) E-8 Senior Chief James Hatch was shot at close range with an AK-47 on a hostage rescue mission in 2009. He was part of 150 Direct Action Combat Missions. As a K9 handler on several deployments, James’ life was regularly spared by the work of K9s – one of the most memorable was Spike. And on James’ final deployment, the night he was critically wounded, a K9 saved James’ life while losing his own. From that evening on, James oriented his life around the training, care and preservation of working dogs. Jimmy founded Spikes K9 Fund after his recovery. Spikes K9 Fund is a 501c3 Tax-Exempt Organization. In addition to working as the founder and president of the fund, he works with local law enforcement and has adopted a former service dog in need of medical attention.

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Marine SSgt Matt Koetting
(Purple Heart Recipient) Ssgt Matt Koetting was injured in an IED blast in February of 2010, in Marjah, Afghanistan. He sustained multiple trauma injuries, but the predominant challenge was the resulting loss of his right eye. He returned to full duty status in 2011 and ultimately retired due to lasting effects of injuries and further complications.

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Army SPC John Looker
(Purple Heart Recipient) Bio Pending

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Army SGT Ryan Mack
(Purple Heart Recipient) Sgt. Ryan Mack was in the Battle of Marjah, Afghanistan 2010. While serving as a reconnaissance team leader, his team was working security for a group of engineers attempting to clear a road for a larger group to move through. The engineers missed the IED and his truck found it. Sgt. Mack broke every bone from the knee down in both legs and had a minor TBI.

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Army SGT Jim Miller
(Purple Heart Recipient) Bio Pending

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Air Force MSG Angela Morales-Biggs
(Purple Heart Recipient) On 28 August 2011, E-7 Angela Morales-Biggs was physically attacked by an SVBIED at FOB Smart Afghanistan. Shortly after, they received small arms fire and another direct blast exposure from a SVEST IED. They then were impacted by RPG rounds and 5 grenade rounds and a second RPG. She was approximately 60 meters from impact and was thrown from where she stood, suffering puncture and blast wounds/TBI.

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Marine SSG James Ownbey
(Purple Heart Recipient) Ssgt/E-6 James Ownbey's team was attacked with small arms fire and a large IED detonated under their vehicle. The vehicle was thrown about 30ft in the air, landing on some power lines. If it wasn't for the MRAP vehicle and a miracle they would be dead. They were than medivaced out. He sustained a TBI and broken back, and later developed blood clots and Osteopenia. The softening of the bones and the blood clots lead to coughing and breaking ribs. One rib punctured his lung causing internal bleeding. His pituitary gland was partially damaged and now he has hormone issues. Also, the front left part of his brain is dead. His balance and cognitive part of his brain are also affected.

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Army CPL Marissa Strock
(Purple Heart Recipient) Corporal Marissa Strock joined the United States Army in 2004. She was trained to become a Military Police Officer and was sent to her first duty station at Ft. Lewis, Washington with the 170th Military Police Company. Her unit had already deployed to Baghdad, Iraq and Marissa quickly joined them. Her unit was tasked with the training and security of multiple Iraqi police stations. On Thanksgiving Day 2005, the vehicle Marissa was in was struck by four artillery rounds buried in the road. The blast killed two Americans and an Iraqi Police Colonel. Marissa survived, but lost both legs, and suffered multiple broken bones and a traumatic brain injury which left her in a coma for four weeks. And it did "get bad" for Strock while she served as a gunner during reconnaissance missions. She witnessed eight attacks with explosive weapons and described an incident in which her team assisted badly burned soldiers after an ambush on a fuel convoy. On Thanksgiving Day in 2005, while patrolling the southern Baghdad area known as the "Triangle of Death," her Humvee was hit by a command-detonated IED. It was a violent blast that instantly killed both the team leader, Staff Sgt. Steven Reynolds, and the driver, Spc. Marc A. Delgado. Strock was thrown backward by the explosion and knocked unconscious.

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Marine SGT Ingrid Underwood
(Purple Heart Recipient) Sgt Ingrid Underwood was assigned to 1/2 as part of the FET team (female engagement team) to help her brothers search females at specific check points. However, the mission turned into something different and they were attached to 3rdPlt (weapons) as part of helping man power since they were shorthanded. On April 2nd, 2010 they were dropped off near the Panda Ridge area by helo. In the midst of the events that day, from taking fire to returning fire, they started to run down the ridge. They got to the bottom of the ridge and to seek cover and a personal IED detonated near Sgt Underwood. That is the last thing she remembers. She was medevaced to camp bastion were she received medical attention for her injuries.

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Marine E-3 Bob VanKuiken
(Purple Heart Recipient) Bio Pending

2017 Ambassador Warriors

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Medal of Honor – Army CSM Bennie G. Adkins
(Medal of Honor/Purple Heart Recipient) Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins was drafted into the Army Dec. 5, 1956, at the age of 22, from Waurika, Oklahoma. Command Sergeant Major Bennie G. Adkins distinguished himself during 38 hours of close-combat fighting against enemy forces on March 9 to 12, 1966. At that time, then-Sergeant First Class Adkins was serving as an Intelligence Sergeant with Detachment A-102, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces at Camp “A Shau”, in the Republic of Vietnam. When Camp A Shau was attacked by a large North Vietnamese force in the early morning hours of March 9th, Sergeant First Class Adkins rushed through intense enemy fire and manned a mortar position defending the camp. He continued to mount a defense even while incurring wounds from several direct hits from enemy mortars. Upon learning that several soldiers were wounded near the center of camp, he temporarily turned the mortar over to another soldier, ran through exploding mortar rounds and dragged several comrades to safety. As the hostile fire subsided, Adkins exposed himself to sporadic sniper fire and carried his wounded comrades to a more secure position at the camp dispensary. Sergeant First Class Adkins exposed himself to enemy fire transporting a wounded casualty to an airstrip for evacuation. He and his group then came under heavy small arms fire from members of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group that had defected to fight with the North Vietnamese. Despite this overwhelming force, Adkins maneuvered outside the camp to evacuate a seriously wounded American and draw fire away from the aircraft all the while successfully covering the rescue. Later, when a resupply air drop landed outside of the camp perimeter, Adkins again moved outside of the camp walls to retrieve the much needed supplies. During the early morning hours of March 10th, enemy forces launched their main assault. Within two hours, Sergeant First Class Adkins was the only defender firing a mortar weapon. When all mortar rounds were expended, Adkins began placing effective rifle fire upon enemy as they infiltrated the camp perimeter and assaulted his position. Despite receiving additional wounds from enemy rounds exploding on his position, Adkins fought off relentless waves of attacking North Vietnamese soldiers. Adkins then withdrew to regroup with a smaller element of soldiers at the communications bunker. While there, he single-handedly eliminated numerous insurgents with small arms fire, almost completely exhausting his supply of ammunition. Braving intense enemy fire, he returned to the mortar pit, gathered vital ammunition and evaded fire while returning to the bunker. After the order was given to evacuate the camp, Sergeant First Class Adkins and a small group of soldiers destroyed all signal equipment and classified documents, dug their way out of the rear of the bunker, and fought their way out of the camp. Because of his efforts to carry a wounded soldier to an extraction point and leave no one behind, Sergeant First Class Adkins and his group were unable to reach the last evacuation helicopter. Adkins then rallied the remaining survivors and led the group into the jungle – evading the enemy for 48 hours until they were rescued by helicopter on March 12th. During the 38-hour battle and 48-hours of escape and evasion, Adkins fought with mortars, machine guns, recoilless rifles, small arms, and hand grenades, killing an estimated 135 – 175 of the enemy and sustaining 18 different wounds. Sergeant First Class Adkins’ extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Detachment A-102, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces and the United States Army.

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Marine COL John Bates
(Three Time – Purple Heart Recipient) Marines Corps Colonel John Bates earned three Purple Hearts in Vietnam, the first after surviving machine-gun fire to the chest. Of the sensation, Colonel Bates says, “It’s like standing over home plate having Mark McGwire wind up and try to hit you out of the ballpark.” The second commendation came after a hand-grenade explosion blasted shrapnel into his leg. “If you’ve ever been hung up in barbed wire, that’s what it’s like,” says Colonel Bates. “Except it’s hot. Very, very hot. A searing heat and you can’t get it out.” Both experiences pale when compared to the time he fell into a pit and his left foot became impaled by a three-foot bamboo stake, the stake smeared with water-buffalo manure to maximize infection. Colonel Bates’ military passion seeped into him through his bloodlines. His father, Leland, who died two months ago, flew 51 combat missions during World War II. When the Vietnam War heated up in the mid-1960s, Colonel John Bates enlisted. The machine-gun fire to his chest didn’t deter him. After being hospitalized in intensive care for 23 days, Colonel Bates had been relegated to mopping the hospital floor. “That wasn’t my intention for being in Vietnam,” he said. So he found a pair of boots, pants, and a blue hospital gown, walked out of the hospital, hitched a ride to the airfield, caught a helicopter and despite still spitting up blood, rejoined his platoon. “Everyone was glad to see me,” Colonel Bates says. “They needed more trigger-pullers.” Less than two years into his scheduled three-year enlistment, he was discharged because of the injuries he received in combat. In the next seven years Colonel Bates earned a bachelor’s degree and two masters. He worked as a substitute teacher, a railroad brakeman and a heavy-equipment operator. But his real goal was to rejoin the Marines. Knowing he’d have to prove his fitness, Colonel Bates began training intensely. Unbeknownst to his wife, Stephanie, over a 2½-year period he applied for readmission to the Corps at least five times. Finally, he was accepted. “Quite honestly,” Colonel Bates said, “I think I wore them down.” Colonel John Bates has served throughout the world since then, including tours in Kuwait during Desert Storm, and recently in Iraq.

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Marine GSGT Sam Deeds
(Purple Heart Recipient) During his Iraq deployment in 2005, Deeds came across an improvised explosive device (IED) while setting up a vehicle checkpoint near Abu Ghraib Prison. When he saw two of his fellow Marines approaching the area, Deeds turned back toward the IED to warn them of danger. Moments after successfully warding off his comrades, the device blew. “It basically leveled me,” he said. His injuries set him on a path of nearly 40 operations and procedures to date. For his actions, Deeds received a Purple Heart, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, a Combat Action Ribbon and the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal. The moment he put his colleagues’ lives ahead of his own may have cemented his legacy as a military hero, but he wasn’t finished sacrificing his own welfare. In 2008, Deeds was recuperating from one of many surgeries–this one to repair a high-incision hernia. The surgical area was sutured and covered with a protective mesh. The doctors told him to avoid any strenuous activity for eight weeks. Six weeks into his recovery, Deeds was relaxing with his family on a beach when a woman was carried away by a rip tide. The woman’s husband and another man tried to save her, but all three were overcome by the current. “People were taking pictures and videos with their phones, and nobody was going to do anything,” he said. “I couldn’t let the guy drown in front of his family.” Deeds plunged into the rip tide and helped all three return safely to shore. The protective mesh and two sutures tore away, leaving a hernia so close to his sternum he opted not to have any more surgery. He’s been living with pain ever since. Deeds medically retired from the marines in 2011 with the rank of gunnery sergeant. Over the course of his injury-shortened career, he served in Iraq, Japan, South Korea, and Haiti (twice). He also has worked in Greater Cincinnati as a recruiter.

Daniel Erlandson

Marine SGT Daniel Erlandson
(Purple Heart Recipient) Daniel Erlandson was born November 16, 1983 in Everett Washington. He is married to Theresa Erlandson and they just celebrated their 5th wedding anniversary on January 7th. Daniel has three sisters, one is older and two are younger. He joined the United States Marine Corps April 21, 2008. Joining the Marine Corps was a lifelong dream, and becoming a Marine is still one of the proudest moments of his life. Daniel served as a 0331 Machine Gunner and spent the majority of his career with 3rd Battalion 4th Marines (Darkside). He deployed with ¾ three times to Afghanistan: 2009, 2011, and 2013. On his second deployment in 2011, he was deployed to Upper Gereshk Valley in northern Helmand Province. On May 31st, while operating as lead vehicle turret gunner, his truck hit an IED. Everyone was OK in the explosion, but he did suffer a mild TBI. Three days later on June 3rd while on a dismounted foot patrol, his squad was ambushed and came under fire. Eventually the enemy broke contact and they headed back to their patrol base. They were then commanded to go back out to the same area even though they knew it was a bad idea and tried to deny it. Upon leaving again, they got close to the same area they came under fire the first time, and again took fire. This time they were taking fire from multiple enemy positions. As Daniel was trying to direct his machine gun squad, an enemy round ricochet off the wall where he was trying to take cover and struck the back of his shoulder. Quick Reaction Force came to pick him up via vehicle to get him to a safe area to be picked up in a helicopter. One of the Marines in the truck that picked him up was Corporal Zanowick, an incredible Marine. After dropping Daniel off, Corporal Zanowick was then forced to go back out and ended up being shot and killed no more than an hour after Daniel was shot. Daniel was taken out of the fight, and had to leave his guys for the rest of the deployment, and then to top it off he found out they lost Zanowick. That took a very strong toll on him then, and still affects him to this day.

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Army SSG Shilo Harris
(Purple Heart Recipient) Shilo Harris understands the difficult challenges facing all soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as how to overcome adversity. During his second combat tour in Iraq, his armored vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device (IED). The explosion on February 19, 2007 killed three of his fellow soldiers and wounded the driver. Burned over one-third of his body, Shilo spent 48 days in a coma followed by nearly three years of recovery at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. Shilo credits his recovery to the courage and commitment of his wife and family, and the dedication and expertise of the military medical community. Shilo’s mission today is to deliver a call to action on behalf of wounded warriors, their families, caregivers, and the surrounding communities. By offering hope, encouragement, and practical strategies for dealing with adversity, Shilo currently speaks to groups around the country about his experiences. Owner of WIN Home Inspection Services and national spokesperson for Helping A Hero, Shilo is a fierce advocate for today’s veterans. Shilo and his family were awarded a new home during ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition December 2012. His book, Steel Will, will be available in September 2014 through Baker Publishing Group.

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Army SPC Halsey Hinson
(Purple Heart Recipient) Halsey Hinson was born April 24, 1981 in Columbia, South Carolina. She joined active duty Army in January 2003 and completed her Basic and AIT at Fort Leonard Wood. She reported to her first duty station in May 2003 as a Military Police Officer and in November of 2004 received the highly revered award of becoming a mother. One year later, Halsey deployed to Baghdad, Iraq with 258 Mp Company, 519th Mp Battalion. On August 9, 2006 her convoy was struck by IED totally disabling the vehicle. She received minor shrapnel to the wrist and burns to the face and wrist which led to a Purple Heart. All other team members in the vehicle also received minor injuries. She returned to duty the following day. She returned home in October of 2006. In January of 2008 she returned home to South Carolina and joined the National Guard for 18 months.

Josh Hoffman

Marine CPL Josh Hoffman
(Purple Heart Recipient) CPL Joshua Hoffman was injured on the battlefield of Afghanistan, August 6th, 2011. His primary job and responsibility as a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan was to find any and all bombs that would prevent infantry and follow-on forces from completing their mission. He was on what was supposed to be his last mission when he found three bombs, and while determining the size of the third bomb his foot inadvertently set it off. The blast blew his left leg off, broke his right knee and femur in half, gave him a grade 4 concussion, severe short term memory loss, and extensive damage to the rest of his body. He was then medically retired from the Marine Corps after he rehabilitated in 2013 and has since had his first child and bought his first home with his wife and son. Joshua said, “Every day is a constant struggle, but with the support of my family, friends, and neighbors I always just bear down and carry on through the day. Life is what you make it and I am trying to make my second chance count. - SemperFi”

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Air Force Lt Col Kevin B. Lombardo – Honored VIP Guest
(Combat Veteran) Major Lombardo is the Chief of Nuclear Weapons Security at United States Strategic Command. He is responsible for advising senior leaders on all security aspects of the nation’s strategic capabilities. Lt Col Lombardo is a Combat Valor decorated Officer who is very active in Wounded Warrior programs. He is an in-demand speaker for PTSD and Combat Stress platforms. He entered the Air Force in 1996 as an enlisted Defender. In 2002 Major Lombardo commissioned through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. He is a graduated Squadron Commander who has worked at numerous operational wings, MAJCOMs and Combatant Command positions. Lt Col Lombardo was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal w/Valor for the rescue of SGT Joel Tavera during a rocket attack at COB Adder in 2008. He is an Ohio native from Chagrin Falls, OH and is a 1990 graduate of Kenston High School in Bainbridge Twp.

John MacNaughton

Marine LCPL John MacNaughton
(Purple Heart Recipient) LCPL John MacNaughton enlisted in the summer of 2003 a week after he turned 18. He spent a year in the delayed entry program and upon graduating high school in June he left for boot camp. John graduated on September 17th, 2004. After graduating from infantry training school he checked into 3rd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment on December 18th. He was deployed to Iraq less than a month later. John was deployed again, this time to Ramadi, Iraq in March of 2006. His last deployment was with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit in July of 2007. He left active service after four years in June of 2008. On the night on March 20, 2005, at about 2030 hours, John’s squad led by GSGT Deeds was conducting a routine vehicle check point on Kandari Market Road just outside of Abu Grahib prison in Iraq. They had set up a perimeter and he was posted on the machine gun mounted in the back of a High Back Humvee. John was scanning roof tops and windows with a night vision sight when suddenly there was a massive explosion behind him and to his right. He was knocked unconscious and thrown to the floor. John said, “I remembered hearing and feeling the debris falling all around me as I regained consciousness. I jumped up and looked where SGT Deeds had stood next to me but I did not see him there. I caught a glimpse of Doc Harerra dragging SGT Deeds around the front of the Humvee. At first I couldn’t feel anything. My adrenaline was pumping and I was on high alert. Confused and disoriented, I checked my sector of fire to see if there were any targets. Seeing nothing, I started to help with the med-evac. I grabbed the stretcher and tried to open it but couldn’t. Then I felt something cold run down my back and start to drip. I wasn’t sure if it was blood but guessed I had been hit and told Lance Corporal Dean to notify our command. I was in shock and didn’t know what else to do. I felt helpless and confused. “ After they loaded SGT Deeds into the back of the Humvee they rushed back into the prison, to the hospital. Once SGT Deeds had received attention he asked someone to look at his back and they confirmed that he had been hit and was bleeding. Inside the hospital, X-Rays confirmed John had shrapnel in his upper back and shoulders, but it was too deep to take out. Eleven years later one piece has come out and another is still in his right shoulder.

Adam-McLeod

Air Force MSG Adam McLeod
(Purple Heart Recipient) Adam McLeod served nearly 18 years in the US Air Force. His first 12 ½ years he served as a Security Police/Forces and a K-9 handler. He was honorably retired in 2010 as an E-7, Air Force Master Sergeant. He has deployed 10 times, two of which were combat deployments while in uniform. His final deployment was to Afghanistan as an advisor to Regional Command West (RC-W) forces on improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Adam was assigned to Camp Bastion/Leatherneck supporting US Marine Corps tactical units as well as other units assigned to and/or transient through the base. His awards include the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service, Purple Heart and Air Force Commendation medals. In 2007, Adam selected a voluntary deployment to Camp Fallujah, Fallujah, Iraq as an analyst assigned to a US Marine Corps explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) detachment. He was tasked to conduct tactical exploitation and forensic analysis of IEDs. He used his analysis to identify IED cells in the area, suggest countermeasures to tactical units and provide information to direct action units. It was during this deployment where an already aggravated back condition deteriorated into his second back surgery in 2008. He lost a significant amount of hearing, no doubt due to IED blasts. Following the deployment, he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury as well as post-traumatic stress disorder and ultimately medically boarded out of the Air Force three days prior to his 18th year military anniversary.

Ryan Meadows

Marine LCPL Ryan Meadows
(Purple Heart Recipient) LCPL Ryan Meadows enlisted April 12, 2004. Following recruit training and School of Infantry, he was sent to 3rd Battalion 8th Marines Kilo Co. In January of 2005 he was sent to Fallujah, Iraq and spent the next 7 months in combat operations. July 17th, 2005 he sustained a traumatic brain injury from an improved explosive device. Following Fallujah, Ryan deployed to Ramadi, Iraq in 2006. They operated in Ramadi from March 2006 to September 2006. Ramadi at the time was the most hostile area in Iraq and they stayed in sustained combat daily. Following Ramadi, he deployed with 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). He did training operations in Kuwait, Djibouti, Africa, and anti-piracy ops off the coast of Somalia. In April 2008 Ryan was honorably discharged from the Marines.

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Air Force MAJ Timothy O’Sullivan
(Purple Heart Recipient) Major Timothy O’Sullivan entered the Air Force in October of 1991 completing 21 years of military service after being medically retired in December of 2013 due to related combat injuries. Major O’Sullivan began his career in United States Air Force as an enlisted propulsion specialist. In early 2000, he was selected for Officer Training School at Maxwell AFB, Alabama where he earned a commission in May of 2000. Following his commission he was assigned to Air Force Special Operations as a contingency planner. Following the September 11th Terrorist attacks, Major O’Sullivan had then deployed to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Oman from Hurlburt Field as part of the initial Special Operations Task Force, Joint Special Operations South/Task Force K-Bar and Task Force 11. In 2007, he deployed in lieu of Army as an embedded combat advisor with British and Australian Forces assigned to the Iraqi Army 10th and 14th Division in Basra Iraq. During this deployment, he endured nearly 1000 rocket attacks, 2 direct fire incidents, convoyed 500+ combat miles and was later injured on March 2nd 2008 during a convoy with British Forces by an 80lb explosively formed projectile. His injuries included a mild traumatic brain injury, internal bleeding and two surgeries removing several bones related to torn ligaments. By April of 2008, he was transferred to his home station MacDill AFB to receive ligament reconstruction, occupational Therapy and TBI treatments at the James A Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa. Upon recovery from his injuries, Major O’Sullivan continued his career at USCENTCOM HQ where he served as a principle advisor to the Combatant Commander (General David Petraeus/General James Mattis) on Security Assistance and Security Cooperation activities regarding Oman and Qatar. His distinguished awards include the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Air Force Combat Action Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Kosovo Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Distinguished Presidential Unit Citation.

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Army SGT Matthew Pennington
(Purple Heart Recipient) Raised in both Maine and Texas, Matthew Pennington entered into military service at the age of seventeen; he had a robust career full of responsibility and leadership roles. Then at the age of twenty three he was struck down by an ambush IED team in Iraq. Losing his left leg and receiving severe damage to his right he was honorably retired and received the Purple Heart and the state of Maine Silver Star among various others.

Matthew has starred in a short film “A Marines Guide to Fishing”. It is story that portrays an injured veteran’s transition back into the work place as well as coping with his loss one year later on his alive day.

Prior to acting, Matthew gave a speech for veteran’s day in the town of La Plata, Maryland as well as campaign videos for Senator Susan Collins. He has served on a panel for Secretary of Defense Gates at Walter Reed and received many of other types of recognition for his service to America.

Matthew has worked alongside director Nick Brennan and Marjorie Pennington to perform screenings of “Marines Guide to Fishing” to raise donations for charitable organizations serving veteran’s. It was creating these environments of entertainment and education that led him to further his speaking career as a Keynote Speaker for the Brain Injury Alliance, Joining Forces, various Military-Civilian conferences and Universities. Matthew has built a program that was endorsed by Congressman Mike Michaud and it has been replicated by the Vet Center’s located within Maine and has been reported to have great success.

Currently Matthew is a part-time National Spokesman/Field Associate for the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, it is a job he believes in and also one that allows him to witness and hear about the positive impact made in the lives of the combat wounded. Matthew has been married to his wife Marjorie Pennington for 11 years and looks forward to a life full of giving to and assisting those in need.

Ross

Army CPT Alec Ross
(Purple Heart Recipient) US Army Airborne Ranger Charlie Company 2nd Ranger Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment Ft Lewis WA 1989-1993. Wounded 20 December 89 on combat jump into Rio Hato Panama, Jump Altitude around 400 feet “Six Minutes!!” The jumpmasters started their pre-jump commands. It was time to stand up. His knees had never been so thankful. Now it would be his legs and shoulders that would bear the discomfort of the tremendous weight of equipment. The C-130 had interior red lights and Ross heard someone reciting the Ranger Creed. You could hear the plane taking hits from ground fire, and away they went. Ross had a perfect exit, no twists. His riser was shot and he streamer in somewhere around 100 Feet. Alec Ross was medically discharged out the military in 1993. From 2003-2008 he worked as a defense contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan, and rehabilitated and reenlisted in the Army Reserves in 2005. Ross was selected for Army Physician Assistant program in 2008 and graduated with a Master’s degree in Physician Assistant studies and was commissioned in Sept 2010. He served several posts and currently a Physician Assistant with Special Operations Command Africa and working as a civilian at Ft Campbell KY in a Troop Medical Clinic caring for our Soldiers and their families.

Zac Ruttman

Air Force SSgt Zac Ruttman
(Purple Heart Recipient) Zac Ruttman is a 37 year old resident of Owasso, OK and a full-time student. He is married, has a seven year old boy and loves both of them very much. He was part of the Tactical Forces Group (Team 2) in Iraq 2004-2005. He was in a Humvee turret as the heavy gunner when their vehicle took a direct hit from two IEDs followed by small arms fire. He sustained shrapnel to his back, neck, and head and ruptured his right ear. Zac said, “Most of the injuries were superficial due to the outstanding armor. After several surgeries and inpatient rehab, I am is about 80% recovered with minor limitations. I feel truly blessed and very well taken care of.” He was awarded (in his seven year career) over two dozen medals and ribbons including the Combat Action Medal, the Commendation Medal with Valor, the Purple Heart, and Oklahoma’s ‘Outstanding Soldier of the Year’ in 2006.

Nick Siewert

Marine LCPL Nick Siewert
(Purple Heart Recipient) LCPL Nick Siewert graduated high school in 2004 and served in the Marine Corps from 2004-2008. He was deployed to Iraq as a Machine Gunner two times to Fallujah (2005) and Ramadi (2006) in the 22nd MEU 2007. Since its activation in 1982, the 22nd MEU has been awarded two Joint Meritorious Unit Awards, four Navy Unit Commendations, five Meritorious Unit Commendations, the Marine Corps Expeditionary Streamer with two stars, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Streamer with two stars, the Armed Forces Service Streamer with three stars, the Southwest Asia Service streamer with two stars, the Afghanistan Campaign streamer, the Iraq Campaign Streamer, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary streamer and the Global War on Terrorism Service Streamer. Nick received his Purple Heart in 2005 in Fallujah. He was assigned to the 3/8 and was attached to the Lima Company as a 0331.

tavera

Army SSG Joel Tavera
(Purple Heart Recipient) Army Staff Sgt. Joel Tavera is one of those truly remarkable people who, if you spend even a few minutes talking to him, any problems you think you have fade away. Tavera was horrifically injured in Iraq on March 12, 2008, in an attack that killed three others and wounded Tavera and another soldier. Tavera, who was volunteering for a mission shortly before he was supposed to head home, remembers a rocket exploding near his up-armored Chevy Suburban. Then came a panic attack. He opened the door. Then came the whistle – the sound of another rocket, heading straight for the Suburban. He was severely burned, had traumatic brain injury, lost part of his right leg, the sight in both his eyes, the fingers on his left hand and had to undergo many painful surgeries. Fast forward a few years. Hillsborough County Fire Rescue’s Kelly Hallman heard that Tavera needed a home. When not fighting fires, Kelly is an architect and, among other things, designs houses. So, working with the Building Homes for Heroes, a non-profit that supports the needs of severely wounded or disabled veterans and their families through building mortgage-free homes, Hallman designed a home for someone who couldn’t walk and needed full-time nursing. Hallman tells a funny story about what happened when Tavera learned of the plans. His response as he walked up to Hallman with a prosthetic on his right leg speaks volumes for a recovery that can only be considered miraculous. “He said, ‘Get that out of my house,’” Hallman says of Tavera’s response to being told of plans for wheelchair access, a nursing station and a therapy room. “I don’t need that.’ I said, ‘You are right, you don’t need that,’ and I took it out.” Joel continues to be a strong role model in showing people that they can move forward and make a difference regardless of their setbacks.

Steve Thompson

Marine Sgt Steve Thompson
(Purple Heart Recipient) Sgt Steve Thompson served in 3rd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment, an infantry battalion out of the 2nd Marine Division in Camp Lejuene, NC. He was a Sgt Squad Leader with 3 deployments to Fallujah, Iraq, Ramadi, Iraq and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. On the same day Major Gen. Richard A. Huck presented the award to Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Slattery, Staff Sgt. Ronald Jacobs, Lance Cpls. John MacNaughton, Andrew Hulkow, Stephen R. Thompson, Nicholas Siewert and Vincent A. Hawkins, and Private Derrell Odom, thanking them for the sacrifice they made. Many marines were injured that day from Third Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment Battalion. Several of them are Warrior Weekend Alumni.

Kevin Wallace

Air Force SMSgt Kevin Wallace
(Purple Heart Recipient) SMSgt Kevin Wallace is the chief of Public Affairs at the 89th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. SMSgt Wallace is responsible for providing guidance and counsel to the 89th AW commander, Presidential Airlift Group commander, subordinate commanders and wing staff. SMSgt Wallace entered the Air Force in September 1997. He served an extended overseas tour in Okinawa, an overseas tour in the U.K., and multiple deployments, including two combat tours in Afghanistan. SMSgt Wallace is a warfighter, and was recognized by the Air Force Chief of Staff in his 2012 Portraits in Courage. After one brutal combat engagement in Afghanistan, his Platoon Leader recalled “Wallace immediately returned fire, augmenting between camera and rifle, firing 119 rounds and 190 photos.” After SMSgt Wallace and four others were hit with a rocket-propelled grenade, the Platoon Leader recalled, “Wallace continued to fire his weapon and to call out enemy positions even after being thrown against a wall, knocked unconscious and receiving burns to his neck. When I called for status south of our fighting position, disregarding his own life and personal safety, Wallace willingly exposed himself to hails of heavy PKM (heavy machine gun) fire three times to verify no insurgents were flanking the south, allowing elements to maneuver south to the CasEvac site without a single soldier being killed. Some of SMSgt Wallace’s major awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, multiple Meritorious Service Medals, Joint Commendation Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Air Force Combat Action Medal, Army Combat Action Badge, Army Valorous Unit Award, and multiple Air Force Recognition Ribbons. He has also won dozens of Air Force and Major Command level awards and was recognized by the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom with the Exceptional Community Relations award for his work with Prince Harry for American and British Wounded Warriors in the UK. He remains active in community service, and mentors and participates in many Air Force Wounded Warrior Program events, as well as Wounded Warrior Project, Boy Scouts of America, and Lutheran Church events in Northern Virginia.