Team Fastrax™ Warrior Weekend to Remember Testimonials

Ken Doyle, US Army

When I was in the Army I was an EOD technician (Explosive Ordnance Disposal). I was injured in Afghanistan in 2012 while me and my team leader, SSG Eric S. Holman, were trying to dispose of an IED. He was standing between me and the IED when it was detonated on the both of us. He absorbed most of the blast and saved my life. Ever since then I have been weighed down with guilt over his death and my injury. Before Eric was an EOD tech he was a Golden Knight on the Army Skydiving team. For the longest time it has been my goal to skydive as a way of remembering him, but I’ve not been able to do it for one reason or another.  I was able to jump on Saturday and it really has been a life changing experience for me. I feel like I have honored his memory in a special way and it has helped me let go of some of my guilt. I feel like a huge burden has been lifted off my shoulders. I also told his family what I did and it made them all so happy. I’ll always remember my friend, Eric, but now the memory will be happier than before. Thank you all for letting me be a part of this weekend and giving me the chance to honor my friend’s memory. I’ll never forget it.

Jason Regester, USAF

“I’ve waited a couple of days before making my post b/c I’m still trying to find the right words to capture the experiences of the Warrior Weekend to Remember. Being surrounded by rooms full of people that have experienced traumatic and devastating injuries and carry the wounds of war (that are both visible and invisible) or suffered the loss of a loved one that made the ultimate sacrifice for our country was awe inspiring. It was so comforting to be accepted, appreciated, recognized, and celebrated but not have to explain myself because everyone already understood. I can’t give enough thanks to the organizers, donors, and volunteers that all came together to pull off such a monumental task. I know the logistics behind such a massive operation and it’s anything but easy. I have very few pictures because I didn’t want to spend a lot of time behind the lens trying to capture each moment instead of living in them and enjoying the experiences. Tons of pictures were taken that will be shared with all, and I’ll upload them once we receive them. Among so many other things this last week was soulful, touching, tear filled, heartbreaking, heartwarming, and healing; but most of all it was something that will never be forgotten. I hope to be able to return in the future as an ambassador warrior and pay it forward by being able to help others through the experience.”

Juan Perez, US Army

“Thank you so much for the invite. It far exceeded what I expected. Your whole entire team made me feel like one of their own. The program was amazing and what you guys have done for the Warriors was great. I am more than certain that we will be able to do something like that here in Colorado for the Warriors here. I have given my report on the event and how it just exceeded all expectations. Again thank you and your family for all that you have done and continue to do. God bless and I will keep in touch.”

Paul Zanowick

“Wow!! We are on an emotional and spiritual HIGH! For the past five days we have had the most incredible, uplifting, heartwarming, and blessed time with some of the most Awesome people…True American Heroes, including Medal of Honor recipient CSM Bennie G. Adkins!! These Warriors have all given so much to the cause of defending the FREEDOM we all enjoy in this great Nation! Our family was honored to represent our son Marine Cpl Paul W. (Rocky) Zanowick, II and we were uplifted by being able to share this incredible “Weekend to Remember” with all the Honored Warriors and Gold Star families!! Our family would like to offer a huge Thank You to David and John Hart, Team Fastrax™, all of the sponsors of this weekend, all of the volunteers, and everyone we met and who touched our lives and made this special weekend happen! With all the turmoil that we have been living through since the loss of our son, we so appreciate and Thank You for “Insulating us from Isolation” on this “Weekend to Remember”! All our Love to you all!”

John R. Bates, USMC

“David, John, Rachel, Joanna and the entire staff and sponsors that made the 2015 Warrior Weekend to Remember possible. The WWTR was overwhelming in such a positive way.  Everything about it was warm, healing and like no other event I’ve ever attended. What made this event so very special was the people; organizers and community, who gave so much of their time, energy, effort and money to make it happen. It puts life into proper perspective.  In retrospect, I realize just how God has blessed me and us in so many ways.  This weekend shows us all how fortunate we are. I, and those that put it together have once again been reminded of why we all need to never forget those who have sacrificed so much. I’m humbled and so grateful to have been able to spend such quality time with America’s protectors and those who love and honor them.  Semper Fidelis,  John R. Bates

Col John R. Bates USMC (ret)”

Dan Sack, US Army

“We are leaving in a few for Gatlinburg for Frances’ family reunion, but we would be remiss in not extending our heartfelt appreciation for a world class memorable weekend.  As you know, I am trying to represent the healing process for our Vietnam veterans and how our country treated us as we returned.  Well, I can say that healing has occurred.  I will continue to look for deserving Vietnam vets who have been overlooked over the years and nominate them for future weekends. You and John will always have a special place in our hearts for all that you do for the Warriors.  Rest well dear friends and know that you have made a terrific, powerful, positive impact on so many families.”

Damon Zeigler, USMC

“I am writing to let you know what an amazing experience I had being involved with The Team Fastrax™ W.T.R. Event. The most moving experience that I encountered was the Lima CO. Tribute! It differently set me back and made me think about a lot of things! It also sparked up some conversations that were long overdue to be expressed! I want you to know that being involved is an important part of my life, and recovery.   This event and opportunity allowed me to set attainable goals, and successfully achieve them despite my injuries.  I always look forward to the knowledge, laughter, experience, and the comradery that I share with the other Veterans whenever I participate in these type of events. I just want to thank everyone involved in making this event possible. I especially want to thank The Participants, families, the coordinators and everyone who made this possible because I understand how difficult it can be to logistically plan for bringing Vets and all their gear to Events. When coordinating with, Lodging, Gear and Chow. I understand the time and effort that you put into this event and I want you to know that the Vets truly appreciate and respect your effort. Keep up the good work. Thanks again and God Bless. Damon Zeigler”

Kevin Lombardo

“One thing that I always take away from these events is discussing OUR Stories.  One in particular was one I had with Air Force Major Tim O’Sullivan.  As both of us are Air Force, we discussed the day(s) where our lives & careers changed forever.  The comradery that we had talking at the hangar was very special to me.  There are some things I can talk to my friends about what happened to me, but the guys and ladies who have been involved in Combat situations just understand what you’re talking about and how you felt and still feel!!!  I take comfort is that! Hope my rambling made some sense. Thanks, Kevin Lombardo, Major, USAF”

Tim O’Sullivan

“I would definitely agree with Kevin’s comments as well. There is some comfort and therapy just being around other combat veterans.  It’s almost like a immediate bond. Our stories are often difficult to share with others who have not had similar experiences and feedback is very different. When we tell our stories with other combat veterans, we can identify and talk about common issues we face in our recovery to better understand why they occur, how long they last and recognize that we are not experiencing these challenges alone. When you think about our 2% population in the United States that has served in the armed forces, there is even a smaller population that have experienced or served in combat, yet alone survive certain near death experiences. The first year I attended the Warrior Weekend to Remember (2014), I had no idea what to expect and it couldn’t have come at a better time in my life. 6 months prior to the event, I had just been told by my service that I was no longer fit for duty due to my combat related injuries (PTSD, TBI and ligament reconstruction) after 21+ years of service, that news and transition is very hard for someone who has spent more than half of his life serving in the Armed Forces and also dealing with both the physical and silent wounds from combat. When I attended the first welcome meeting from the event last year, I remembered the words of Medal of Honor recipient Leroy Petry, he told everyone, “I have been counting down the days for this event”. (Leroy had attended a similar event in Texas in 2013) When the event had ended last year, I completely understood why he was counting down those days. As a local Ohioan, I continued contact with a few of the organizers (David Hart), attended the planning meetings and kept a network of the warriors through Facebook from 2014. It was great seeing them again and I’ve actually reached out to a few of them in a time a need during some difficult moments (E.g. Death of Maj Gen Greene in Afghanistan after attending my school prior to his deployment). I was also amazing to have met some new warriors this year and hear there stories. I told David Hart after last years event that I feel obligated to find other warriors so that they can experience the same comfort and therapy this event had offered me. As a result, David offered that I return as an Ambassador this year and assist in the planning one of the events. One of the warriors that I proud to of assist was Tony Paletta and his dog Aggie. I had met Tony at WPAFB through my wife and a friend. We got together and immediately felt comfort in sharing some of our combat experiences and challenges with ongoing recovery. Tony had told me his story about his unit’s dog that was killed and his desire to jump with his service dog and immediately thought of David Hart. I told David the story and as always he was quick to assist Tony in ensuring his wish would come true.  I was so excited for Tony because I knew the personal impact that this jump would have in his recovery. Another individual who had a profound impact on me was Shilo Harris. I met him last year and we actually jumped together and played golf during the event. A moment with Shilo that I would never forget was how he responded to a Gold Star Family who was only a volunteer during the event last year. I knew of Gold Star families because I had lost a good friend during a deployment but had never talked with them in person. I always said to myself, I have no idea how I would respond to the family who has lost the most precious thing they have. When I first saw them. I was nervous and didn’t think that anything I could say to them could make them feel better. A few warriors including myself were sitting on the bus and one of the volunteers told us that the couple over there is a Gold Star Family member. We looked at each other and I know we all were thinking the same thing, but Shilo immediately excused himself from the bus and walked over to the family and just gave them a big hug. I saw how the family reacted and I quickly realized that we shouldn’t separate ourselves from them and show them that we do understand.  I soon followed his lead with that family and have since taken them in as a family of my own. I will say this again, what David and John have done for the lives our warriors is priceless.”

Sam Deeds, USMC

“While conducting a foot patrol on Feb 19 2005 I was exposed to my 1st of 2 IED blasts.  I was less the 5 ft away when the device was detonated.  The second was on Mar 20 2005 while setting up a vehicle check point to the west of Abu Ghraib Prison.  During that blast I was leveled. I suffered a 1/3 open tibia fracture to the left tibia, multiple shrapnel wounds to my upper and lower left thigh, left hand breaking 2 metacarpals, left forearm, right hand and right groin.  During each blast I suffered a grade 2 concussion. I have been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress. For years I sat at home and wondered “What If?”  What if I had gone a different route? What if I had not reacted the way that I did?  Then I sit with the guilt of getting sent home only 63 days into the deployment and wondering if I had done everything that I could have done to prepare my Marines for a 7 month deployment. After the Team Fastrax™ Warrior Weekend to Remember I came to the realization that “I” was focused on one thing. ME. Not the fact that 2 Marines are alive because I put my life in front of theirs. That another, even though he was wounded, is still alive because of my judgment call. 3 lives saved because of me. I did not put the IED’s in the ground. I did not wire them nor did I set them off. I did the right thing as an Infantry Unit Leader and protected my Marines. I focused on my disability and what I was restricted to do or the things that the Dr’s told me that I never do again. Like play hockey or ski.  I could only think of all the negative things and sit at home all day and be miserable and angry. Now I focus on my abilities. Like raising awareness for Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury through public speaking.  Like finding other veterans like myself those with Purple Hearts and with disabilities. Find their abilities. From shooting, to golf, or even skydiving.  Everyone has the ability to have a positive impact on someone else’s life. Rather it’s a small child or an elderly person. We should all focus on the positive and drive forward. No matter what era you served from WWII to the present conflicts or which branch you served with from the Army to the Coast Guard. We’ve all shed blood for or county, our brothers and sisters, and our freedoms. John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. A small excerpt from Shakespeare’s Henry V, 1598:…We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother;…Those who have seen the rigors of battle and those who have bled for our country know the true meaning of sacrifice. Those Gold Star families who lost a loved one know sacrifice. I am honored to be a small part of this amazing weekend. To honor our nations true heroes. GySgt  USMC (Ret)”

Bill Wilch (via son Stephen) US Army

“My 91 year old father, PFC William A. Wilch, if he were able to see well enough, would certainly write all his feelings about the recent Team Fastrax™ Warrior Weekend to Remember. Since he is legally blind, he will be unable to write himself. He has told me, he is very thankful for his invitation to this event, the last two years. He is humbled by the care of all involved, to include him at this wonderful event, for our most recent Wounded Warriors. All of them have become very dear to him. He thinks of them all as his new, “Band of Brothers”. Even though it hurts his heart to realize the results of their wounds, he sees they are now recovering much better, over the days of fun at WWWTR. He thanks everyone, for the immense amount of work they all give back, to wounded Veterans. He absolutely loves them all. He would certainly tell anyone who would phone him, much more than I can write here. Plus, it would be in his own words. My feelings as his son, and watching him throughout those days; with all the Wounded Warriors, is a profound thanks, from all of his family. I am grateful to be able to witness, all the warriors enjoy themselves, and each other. I am too, humbled that my Dad, is one of those Veterans that sacrificed so much, and was greatly honored to witness him share time and togetherness with them. I can tell you, I have watched my father this past year, leading up to this year’s event, stay excited right up until the Warrior Welcome Reception, July 8, 2015. He was looking forward to seeing returning Warriors, and all the new Warriors as well. He gladly attended the Team Fastrax™ monthly planning meetings, to learn the latest updates. Then discussing it afterwards with me, from time to time, until the next planning session. Three months before the Reception, I was told to keep a secret from my Father Bill. Team Fastrax™, by an idea thought up by member Perry Davis, were going to present Bill with a new M1 Garand rifle. One that would replace his Garand, he carried across Omaha Beach on D-Day. Bill had told the story, his D-Day Garand, which he had named and written on its stock, “GERONIMO”, was destroyed in combat during the night of June 10, 1944. During an ambush his 2nd Battalion endured, at Le Carrefour, Normandy. An explosion had detonated just above his squad trying to catch some sleep, all lying head to toe in a ditch along a hedgerow. Two of his squad mates were killed in this blast, and one was terribly wounded. Bill’s helmet was resting on the wounded squad mate’s boots lying ahead of him. Bill was lying on his back, his M1 rifle resting across his chest. This explosion blew off his helmet, and his rifle was lifted out of his hands, and blown somewhere into the darkness. More explosions followed all around, tracer bullets crisscrossing the big field his battalion had bivouacked in. Bill’s instincts kicked in, with only two hand grenades to fight with, and no certain direction to throw them with G.I.s all around him, he ran towards a distant hedgerow where no tracers were coming from. Hiding out until day break with other G.I.s he joined up with, he and the others returned to this killing field when they could hear and see the ambush had ended. There he mourned his fallen squad mates, with many other, killed and wounded, scattered all around. He found his M1, “Geronimo”, in a pile of American weapons, collected from those unable to continue their next mission. Its stock was shattered into several pieces. He left it in the pile, and retrieved another. Team Fastrax™ wanted to inscribe Bill’s new M1 with Geronimo, just as his was on D-Day. I was given the task to keep all this secret. Adding to my difficulty, I was to ask Bill to write “GERONIMO” on paper, exactly as he had written it in late May, 1944 while in England. It was no small problem to lie to my Father, on why I wanted him to write this. John and David Hart advised me on my deception. So I told Bill, the Hart brothers were very interested in the story of his Garand being named Geronimo. As this Native American Indian name, was yelled by some paratroopers as they jumped from their aircraft in training. Bill agreed, wrote it, and I passed it on to the team. Weeks later, my Father still having all his faculties, asked me what had become of his printing Geronimo for Fastrax™. I told him I had no idea, maybe the Hart brothers were going to give Bill an old portrait of the famous Indian fighter. He liked the idea, and later told me it couldn’t be that, he knows the Hart brothers are notorious pranksters, saying, “I think John and David are up to something”. “Yes”, I agreed, “but I have no idea what. If they’re pulling a prank, I too would like to know”. Days later, David Hart messaged me, that there were some WWII Pinup Girls, and Vixens 4 Veterans wanting to join the Weekend to Remember. Next time Bill questioned me on my alleged complicity with the Hart Brothers, I showed Dad the Patriot Pinup & Vixens 4 Veterans e-mail, and a few of their photos. He certainly liked this addition to the WWWTR, but asked, what this had to do with “Geronimo”? Cornered, I lied thru my teeth, “I think David Hart is going to try and shock you out of your G.I. shorts”. Bill said, “What the hell does that mean”? I said; “I’m only guessing, but I think they are going to have a girl dress up like an Indian princess, dance around you at a gathering to embarrass you, and she’ll have a tattoo on her arm in your handwriting- “GERONIMO”. He laughed his fanny off, saying, “That sounds just like something David would pull on me”. I added, “No, this is just an idea, but they have not told me exactly what this is all about, but Dad, just be ready”. Dropping the subject, the day of the WWWTR Orientation began, and Perry Davis presented my Dad with the greatest gift anyone could imagine. With all members of Team Fastrax™ present, surrounding him as his new M1 Garand was presented, tears flowed from all in our family. As well as a few others. Bill’s other great moments at WWWTR, were his riding in a Huey Helicopter with his two grandsons, Josh Shaffer and Brett Wilch. Next, he got to fire a few rounds out of “Geronimo” once more. Saying, “I haven’t shot an M1 Garand since before I left England, back in 1945”. Then he watched his grandsons Josh, Brett, and me shoot his Garand too. He also watched Brett shoot in the matches at the Miamisburg gun club. Brett winning the 3 gun match, and overall match winner. Bill too was thrilled, when he flew second seat in the WWII AT6 Texan, the pilot asking him if he could withstand a few barrel rolls, and a 4 point roll. Bill answered, “Hell yes, let’s do it”. Now that done, he was back to visiting his Wounded Warrior Brothers every chance he could. Great thanks goes to everyone involved, and more to those who helped my Dad in and out of his wheelchair, more who grabbed him water, food, and even a few beers he so loves. Sincerely, Bill’s son, Stephen J. Wilch.”