Wounded Army veterans from Fort Belvoir, Va., tour the NFL Film Studio in Mount Laurel, N.J., on June 18, 2017, during a Warrior Weekend Program event. (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis)

Delaware Legion family provides rest, fun for wounded warriors

It’s a simple reality of hospital care, be it civilian or military: on weekends, there are fewer staff on duty and fewer things for patients to do.

A group of American Legion family members from the Department of Delaware wanted to change that for wounded servicemembers.

While the Warrior Weekend Program isn’t an official American Legion program, it’s staffed with Legion family members volunteering their time as guides and drivers for the weekend getaways aimed at providing rest, relaxation and fun for the wounded heroes and their loved ones.

Scott Underkoffler, commander of the Sons of The American Legion Detachment of Delaware and vice president of the Warrior Weekend Program, said the program developed after a 2006 visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“We saw fewer staff (on duty on the weekend),” Underkoffler said. “We said, we’ve got to get them out of here, get them something to do.”

The first weekend getaway took place in early 2007; since then, they’ve averaged seven weekend trips a year. Among the destinations: a bed and breakfast in Rehoboth Beach, Del.; a weekend at Hershey Park, Pa.; and a four-day weekend in Kingston, N.Y., which includes a train ride to New York’s Union Station followed by another train ride to Kingston, as well as escorts by NYPD in New York City and Legion Riders on the way in to Kingston.

Underkoffler said “the whole town” turned out to celebrate the wounded heroes on the Kingston trip. Last weekend’s group of servicemembers saw similar appreciation during their time in Philadelphia, including a couple buying dessert for the group during one of their dinners out and several passers-by thanking them for their service.

The Philadelphia weekend included a private tour of NFL Films across the river in Mt. Laurel, N.J.

“They’ve been so good to us,” said Joe Green, an ambassador for the Warrior Weekend Program.

The weekend also included a tour of the battleship New Jersey and visits to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Not every one of the five wounded servicemembers took part in each of the tours, and that’s OK, Underkoffler noted. The point of the weekend is to give the soldiers an opportunity to get away for the weekend.

It’s one that Sgt. Maj. Sharon Williams of Virginia appreciated.

“It’s a great way to get out and socialize,” she said. “You’re not just sitting in your room feeling down. And there’s a lot of historical stuff here.”

Underkoffler acknowledged that the warriors “become family.” He’s quickly become “Uncle Scott” to Jada and Jayla Bertrand, the five-year-old twins of Anthony and Elena Bertrand, who were making another trip as part of the program.

There are four more Warrior Weekend trips scheduled for 2017: July 21-23, Hershey, Pa.; Sept. 15-17, Chincoteague, Va.; Oct. 6-9, Kingston, N.Y.; and Nov. 3-5, Rehoboth Beach, Del. Wounded servicemembers at Fort Belvoir in Virginia sign up for the trips and are selected by an independent contractor, Underkoffler said.

Garth Miller, one of the Delaware SAL’s sergeants-at-arms and another Warrior Weekend Program ambassador, said they’re not looking to expand the program to more areas, but they’re always looking for ways to fund the program, which is a 501(c)(3) corporation operated entirely by volunteers. Underkoffler said the average cost of each trip is about $4,500.

The cause has been helped the last few years by raffles for Super Bowl tickets. The next fundraiser is a “golfer’s dream raffle” with the drawing to be held March 1, 2018. First prize is two tickets to the final round of the 2018 Masters; second prize is two tickets to the final round of the 2018 U.S Open; and third prize is two tickets to the final round of the 2018 PGA Championship. Each prize includes a hospitality package and two nights lodging.

Green acknowledged that selling raffle tickets isn’t an easy method for fundraising. “Going to the same base year after year can lead to apathy no matter how noble the cause,” he said.

That’s why they’re looking for Legion posts elsewhere, or even individual members, to consider buying tickets to the golfer’s dream raffle. Each ticket costs $20 and only 5,600 will be sold.

For more information about the Warrior Weekend Program, visit www.warriorweekend.net.