Community Helps Spread Aloha to Wounded Warriors
May 15, 2008
HONOLULU - The sound of wheels screeching on the airline runway created an auditory delight for 26 active-duty Soldiers and Marines, as well six spouses and nine staff, here, May 6.
The sound also began a 10-day adventure on the island of Oahu for the Soldiers and Marines - amputees with one or more limbs missing due to injuries sustained in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The service members are in Hawaii through the workings of Operation Comfort. The nonprofit organization specializes in bringing the comforts of home to recovering heroes who have been seriously injured in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
As well, the generosities of other organizations in the community are allowing the Soldiers and Marines to take their therapy to a whole new level.
"We are out here surfing and swimming and constantly walking ... a lot of physical activity," said Sgt. Lilina Benning. "We are still recovering and receiving therapy. This is just a different way of doing it."
"We are experiencing everyday activities, like surfing, [that] we might not otherwise get to do," said Capt. Alex Wilson. "It just shows that if you put your mind to something, you can do it, regardless of whether you're missing a leg or you're not properly equipped."
More than 50 local businesses and organizations, including the Kaneohe Warrior Transition Unit, Ocean Concepts, Hale Koa, Kailua Canoe Club, Soldier's Angels, Keneke's restaurant, Polynesian Adventure Tours, and numerous others, donated time, money, transportation and resources to ensure the group experiences the aloha of the islands for the sacrifices they have made for America.
"These guys have done us such a service, and this is a way of giving back," said Suzy Stewart, surf instructor and owner, Sunset Suzy Surf Lessons on the North Shore. "Surfing is what I have to offer, and I want to show them a great time."
During the first few days of their trip, the group surfed on the beaches of the North Shore and Waikiki. They went scuba diving and snorkeling, toured Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial, swam with turtles, and sauntered around Sea Life Park.
May 11 brought a nice change of pace; the group lazily lounged on the beach during a picnic at Kailua Beach Park sponsored, in part, by the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club, 516th Signal Brigade. Numerous volunteers joined the group to set up tents, gather equipment and cook an array of tasty treats.
"So many people were willing to help out by providing money or services for this day," said Command Sgt. Major Toni Allen, 516th Signal Brigade and member of the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club. "We couldn't be happier [that] the group chose Hawaii to visit, and the generosity of the community really shows how much we support our Soldiers."
As the trip continued, the Soldiers, Marines and family members sailed the seas on a sunset cruise, hiked across various landmasses and experienced more underwater adventures.
"I'm doing things here I've never done before," said Staff Sgt. Bernard Teich. "It's great to feel the support of the community in Hawaii, to know that you have support for what you have done, regardless of how they feel about the war."
"They are here to support us and show us a good time," added Teich, "and we are grateful."
"This is a great way for our Soldiers and Marines to recover mentally, physically and emotionally," said Janis Roznowski, founder and director of Operation Comfort, San Antonio, Texas. "We appreciate the dedication and sacrifice they have made.
"I don't think we could ever give back enough, but we will try, starting with aloha," Roznowski added.
When the Soldiers and Marines end their excursion in Oahu, they will continue recuperating from their injuries at Brooke's Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.