As the song goes, "the stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas." No stars were bigger or brighter on Aug. 11 than the wounded warriors and their families who were honored by The American Legion's Operation Comfort Warriors during a visit to Six Flags Fiesta Texas amusement park.
More than 1,000 wounded warriors, support personnel and family members attended the picnic and day at the park as guests of the Brooke Army Medical Center Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB), located at nearby Fort Sam Houston. Operation Comfort Warriors provided more than $15,000 in financial assistance, gifts and door prizes. Other nonprofit organizations also contributed to the event.
"Each individual is different, but typically after treatment their regimen is at a point where they can leave the hospital as an outpatient and then they are cleared medically, we (then) encourage as much as possible for soldiers to try to resume their normal lifestyle and have events like this recreational afternoon in San Antonio," said Army Lt. Col. Brian D. Almquist, commander of the WTB.
A delegation of American Legion family members included Department of Texas Vice Commander Lynn Sparks and Sons of The American Legion Detachment of Texas Commander Jeff Alvis. The Legion family greeted the warriors and distributed T-shirts, baseball caps and water bottles that proved useful in the 103-degree Texas weather.
"The soldiers get a lot of help while at the WTB, but the second they become a veteran and are no longer in the military, they lose a lot of services that they are used to getting," said Jennifer Nelson, family readiness support assistant for the WTB. "Non-profits such as The American Legion come out and help them with any kind of benefits and resources that they need outside the Army."
Army Sgt. Jamel Abdul Aziz left Afghanistan less than a month ago. "I got shot in my chest, in my shoulder and in my leg," said Aziz, who is recovering at WTB. "Going from Afghanistan to home you think life is just going downhill for you ... nothing is going good, you're in the hospital for a month and when you have an event like this it actually boosts your morale. You see other injured soldiers happy and smiling."
Recreational events, lifestyle equipment and gifts for wounded, injured or ill warriors have been the primary focus of Operation Comfort Warriors since 2008, when it was expanded from an earlier program for troops at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. OCW and its predecessor, Operation Landstuhl, have provided approximately $1 million worth of assistance over the last five years.
"I always thought The American Legion did great things," added Sgt. Tory Daniels. "I wish more people philanthropy-wise could get involved and understand that we still have things at home that need to be taken care of – soldiers being number one."
Almquist said soldiers returning from war often have an adjustment process.
"They are separated from their units when they are wounded," Almquist said of the servicemembers under his command. "But when they're back here and see groups like The American Legion give their hearts, their resources and their time to put together events like this, it does wonder for the morale of these soldiers."
"The American Legion showed our young OIF and OEF veterans that we really care about them," said Butch Sparks, a past commander of the Department of Texas. "There might be an age gap between World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans and these veterans today. But we want them to know that we are glad to have them as part of our family."
All administrative and operating costs for Operation Comfort Warriors are paid by The American Legion's National Headquarters, meaning 100 percent of donated funds go directly to purchasing items for the troops.
In order to purchase items that the troops truly need, monetary donations are encouraged. Checks can be mailed to: Operation Comfort Warriors, The American Legion, P.O. Box 1055, Indianapolis, IN 46206. Donations also can be made online .