HEROIC PLANS
From left, retired Marine Staff Sgt. Lori Martin, retired Marine Lt. Col. Mike Dahl and Marine Reserve Gunnery Sgt. Jim Wittkop look over plans for Heroes' Week, which involves activities for 32 wounded Marines and Soldiers along with their spouses.

Veterans Day activities will once again be the backdrop for a Tennessee Valley program that extends Southern hospitality to wounded Marines and Soldiers.

The Semper Fi Community Task Force will host a group of 16 Marines and 16 Soldiers along with their spouses during Heroes' Week, which will include the Marine Corps Ball, a fishing tournament and boat tour, and the Veterans Day dinner and parade. All events are free for the wounded warriors and their spouses.

"This is our way of helping, our way of paying it forward," said retired Marine Lt. Col. Mike Dahl, who is coordinating Heroes' Week.

The task force has been raising funds throughout the year for this event. The group has also recruited various local businesses to donate services and products, and volunteers to assist with transportation and other arrangements.

"We rely on a lot of local organizations to help us with this," Dahl said.

Organizations such as the Patriot Guard, North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organization's Coalition, Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army, Still Serving Veterans, Vettes for Vets Corvette Club, Blue Star Moms, Eagles Women's Auxiliary, Hands on Greater Huntsville, the cities of Huntsville, Madison, Decatur and Guntersville, and several local churches support Heroes' Week. Businesses such as Sierra Toyota, the Westin Hotel, Guntersville Yacht Club and Rocket Harley-Davidson are also providing support.

"We want to show them that Huntsville and North Alabama is an awesome place. We support our troops and we accept people with open arms," said Reserve Gunnery Sgt. Joe Wittkop, a Heroes' Week volunteer.

For these wounded warriors, the local community also becomes known as a healing place.

"Many of these wounded warriors are in the process of dealing with their injuries," sad retired Marine Staff Sgt. Lori Martin, a Heroes' Week volunteer. "Some are on crutches. Some are in wheelchairs. Some get tired after walking just a little ways."

"And crowds can make them nervous, too," added Wittkop. "They may have lost a leg or they may have a head wound. They may have been shot several times."

The mission of Heroes' Week is to give the wounded warriors and their spouses a positive, caring experience.

"Most of them are very wary when they first get here," Martin said. "But by day two or three they start to relax and enjoy themselves."

The task force works with the Marine's Wounded Warrior Regiment and Fox Army Health Center to compile a list of wounded warriors for the trip to Huntsville. The Marines will be traveling from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Canada, California and New York. The Soldiers will be traveling from the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Heroes' Week will begin on Nov. 6 when the wounded warriors will arrive at Huntsville International Airport at 3 p.m. The public is invited to greet them at the airport or to welcome them at the Westin Hotel at 4 p.m. or at a reception at the Heritage Club from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The group will make a public appearance in the Veterans Day Parade on Nov. 11.

Heroes' Week will include the Marine Corps Ball on Nov. 7, a concert and fishing tournament in Decatur on Nov. 8, a boat tour of Lake Guntersville on Nov. 9, a U.S. Space & Rocket Center visit and Veterans Day dinner on Nov. 10, and the Veterans Day Parade, job fair and career counseling session and a farewell dinner on Nov. 11.

One important feature of Heroes' Week is the inclusion of the wounded warriors' spouses.

"The first year, we only invited the wounded warriors," Dahl said.

"The second year, we included the spouses and the feedback was fantastic. It's important to help these wounded warriors by supporting their marriages, providing both them and their spouses with information and services, and making both the wounded warrior and the spouse feel special.

It's important for the wounded warriors to share this experience with their spouses. Last year, when they returned from their week with us, their medical doctors and nurses said their attitudes and outlook had improved dramatically."

There is also plenty of time during the week for the wounded warriors and their spouses to relax, enjoy the local area's offerings, and to share their thoughts and feelings with others in the group.

"We want to pamper them and show them we care," Martin said.

"We take the spouses to have their nails done and their hair done. They will go shopping. We even have a fashion show planned for them. They get to enjoy each other's company, share each other's experiences and just talk with each other."

The group will be staying at the Westin Hotel, with several Bridge Street businesses supporting the group's activities.

"We've had a lot of businesses who have been extremely receptive and helpful with this event," Wittkop said. "We are unique here in that we have a great military industrial complex and a community that really supports the military. We have all the key ingredients to make Heroes' Week a success."

To volunteer or donate to Heroes' Week, visit the Semper Fi Community Task Force at www.semperfictf.org.

Page last updated Fri October 23rd, 2009 at 16:38