Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Former Dallas Cowboy Visits Wounded Warriors

Just part of the reason I'm a Cowboys fan. ;)

Former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Chad Hennings talks with Marine Sgt. Shermander Jackson of Brundidge, Ala., while his mother tries on one of Hennings' Super Bowl rings during a barbecue lunch for the injured service members at the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio April 12.

Former Dallas Cowboy visits Wounded Warriors
April 12, 2007; Submitted on: 04/25/2007 03:28:19 PM ; Story ID#: 2007425152819

By Gunnery Sgt. Rusty Baker, Marine Aircraft Group 41

FORT WORTH, Texas — (April 12, 2007) -- The busy hallway of the Texas hospital began to buzz with excitement. “Is that him? – Wow, he’s a giant!” The sound of cowboy boots clicking down the hallway gave him away even before rounding the corner where wounded Marines waited in starry-eyed ambush. When his eyes met theirs, smiles broke loose from young faces for the first time in too many days to count.

“Would you like to wear my rings?” said former Dallas Cowboy’s defensive tackle Chad Hennings as he placed three gigantic Super Bowl rings in the hand of a young sergeant. Eyes and smiles widened even further as he made his way through the crowd, taking the time to talk to every “wounded warrior” present.

Hennings partnered with Fort Worth-based Marines and sailors of Marine Aircraft Group 41 and members of the Fort Worth Air Power Council April 12 by traveling to San Antonio’s Brooke Army Medical Center as part of an ongoing collaboration to provide support and comfort to seriously injured service members and their families.

“I was impressed with the facility and the quality of care that I saw,” said Hennings. “There was real compassion among the nurses, physicians and physical trainers, all with the number one goal of getting the soldiers and Marines well.”

A former Air Force Academy graduate and pilot of the A-10 Thunderbolt, Hennings was instantly greeted as a fellow combat veteran and began an active dialogue with many of the wounded as he toured the state-of-the-art facility.

“What impressed me the most was seeing the life in the eyes of the injured men and women and the number of family members that were on hand,” Hennings said. “It was encouraging to me to see them facing the trauma and confronting their challenges, yet ready for the next stage in their lives.”

Hennings took time to meet with every service member and gave each an autographed copy of his motivational book, “It Takes Commitment.” The book chronicles his life from growing up on a farm, to flying missions over Iraq, to an impressive career with the Dallas Cowboys.

Spending time with the wounded warriors at BAMC reinforced the lessons he’d learned throughout his life about the sacrifices necessary to keep America great, he said. Upon visiting with the troops and hearing their stories, Hennings was amazed that most of them only wanted to get back to their units on the front lines.

“Their upbeat attitude reaffirmed my faith in America,” said Hennings.

“The level of courage and fortitude displayed by our wounded warrior and their families is astounding,” said Col. Juergen ‘Baron’ Lukas, MAG-41’s commanding officer. “While the personal tragedies and suffering is, frankly, beyond comprehension, their spirit, pride and positive outlook are an inspiration.

“I think part of this positive outlook comes from the superb care and compassion the wounded and their families are given by the wonderful staff at BAMC and by the many supportive organizations that have became part of the overall effort,” Lukas said. “The Semper Fi Fund, the Fisher House Foundation, and our very own Fort Worth Air Power Council, among others, have made the difference between just coming back to a hospital and coming back to regain their life.”

Earlier this year, the privately funded $40 million Center for the Intrepid opened to work in tandem with Brooke’s level-one trauma center, providing medical services to amputees, burn patients and service members undergoing limb salvage efforts. According to BAMC officials, the new 65,000-square-foot center provides amputees and those with severe extremity injuries the best opportunity to regain their ability to live and work productively.

This was the third visit for Lukas. “Everyone that leads warriors must spend some time with the returning wounded and their families. Every time I come here, I regain my perspective as a commander.”

On his last visit, Lukas was accompanied by his 23-year-old son, Marine 2nd Lt. Erik Lukas.

“After my son graduated from the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School, I brought him along on my first visit to BAMC,” Lukas said. “His visit to BAMC, his contact with the wounded and their families, has given him a much greater sense of his responsibilities as a leader of Marines, and it has also strengthened his sense of the greater Marine Corps Family.”

It did not take long for the colonel to discover an important member of that family –Sgt. Shermander Jackson. Jackson, a 24-year-old Brundidge, Ala., resident was serving as a tank commander with 2nd Tank Battalion and was wounded in Fallujah, Iraq, Feb. 7. Jackson’s face, hands and arms were severely burned when a RKG-3 anti-tank grenade hit both of his tank’s 120mm ammunition magazines causing 34 rounds to ignite from the intense heat. The hooded balaclava he wore protected most of his head, leaving a perfect circle of second and third degree burns on his face.

An indescribable charisma drew people to Jackson. For a person to have recently endured so much, he somehow seemed able to shrug it off and focus on the future. One source of strength for Jackson is his mother and 14-year-old brother who recently moved to San Antonio to help him with the long mental and physical healing process.

“Marines and peers being available for the wounded warriors as well as devoted family members will play an essential role in the Marines maintaining their mental health,” said Lt. Col. Keith Pankhurst, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing combat operational stress control coordinator, who was also on hand to support the event.

“It has been documented that warriors who have been severely injured are at a higher risk for suffering from post traumatic stress disorder or other mental health challenges than their fellow warriors,” said Pankhurst, who years earlier commanded a tank platoon in Jackson’s unit. “This is why it is so important that we…develop an effective combat/operational stress control program specifically designed for wounded warriors.”

For lunch, all were treated to a Texas-sized barbecue buffet thanks to members and friends of the Air Power Council. In addition, each service member received an MP3 BlueTooth wristwatch that transmits music via Bluetooth to a compatible headset. In all, the manufacturer donated 200 watches weeks before the products are even available in stores.

After a crowd began to form, NAS-JRB Fort Worth’s base chaplain, Cmdr. Michael Hogg, passed out Dallas Cowboys jerseys, jump suits and other athletic apparel donated from the Dallas Cowboys Merchandise Distribution Center.

The wounded service members came from all corners of the country, each with a personal favorite football team, but by the end of the day, each could be counted as a Cowboys fan. Those still receiving treatment over the coming months should keep their new Dallas Cowboys gear nearby; Chad Hennings’ next project is to give the wounded warriors at BAMC a sneak peek into Dallas Cowboys’ Pre-Season Training Camp at San Antonio this summer.
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