by Susan Hornik
If ever you want a lesson in courage, strength and the ability to persevere despite any obstacle, talk to one of the wonderful people who participate in the Wounded Warrior Project. The Jacksonville-based nonprofit organization’s purpose is to raise awareness for veterans and physically/mentally injured military service members.
Various programs focus on the brain—from mental health issues to traumatic brain injuries. In addition to their physical wounds, it is estimated that as many as 400,000 service members live with the invisible wounds of war, from combat-related stress and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder. Another 320,000 are believed to have experienced a traumatic brain injury while on deployment.
Veteran Julio Gavidia will be raising money for the organization through Tough Mudder, an extremely difficult 10-to-12-mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces. Tough Mudder has raised more than $3 million for the Wounded Warrior Project. A Desert Storm veteran, Gavidia was deployed twice and suffered memory loss after his head injury. “At the time, I hadn’t known about Wounded Warriors, but I would have loved to have been the recipient of all the charity’s benefits,” he says. “It’s so difficult to talk about these things with civilians who don’t understand what it is like to be in combat, or anything war-related. At Wounded Warriors, you can connect with other veterans, and that really is comforting.”
At a recent WWP fundraiser with musician Gene Simmons and actor James Gandolfini, comedian Bill Engvall said, “These guys and gals put their lives on the line for us. Stuff happens, and they come back home, and all of a sudden everyone forgets about them. That’s not right. I firmly believe we need to thank and support them for what they do.”
Added Simmons: “All the proceeds are going to Wounded Warrior. Anyone who risks their lives and gives the ultimate sacrifice to America has got to be honored. And that is what tonight is about.”
Gandolfini, who has volunteered with the charity for many years, was executive producer on the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary special, Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq, where the actor interviewed 10 soldiers who survived severe injuries while serving in Iraq.