By Jacqueline M. HamesNovember 3, 2008
WASHINGTON (November 3, 2008, Army News Service) -The National Military Family Association recently announced recipients of the Very Important Patriot award, honoring a Fort Bragg widow who started a wounded Soldier outreach committee in response to her husband's death.
Wesley Bauguess will receive a VIP award, which includes a $1,000 prize and a trip to Washington, D.C., for her work on the 82nd Airborne Division Wounded Warrior Committee.
"It is such an honor. I had no idea I was nominated," Bauguess said on learning about the award.
The Fort Bragg, N.C.-based 82WWC provides "comfort items," like fleece jackets, to wounded paratroopers at Walter Reed, Brooke and Womack Army Medicals Centers to help them feel more connected with the division.
The NMFA recognizes volunteers worldwide through the Very Important Patriot Program. Active-duty, National Guard and Reserve, or retired service members of the seven uniformed services, their family members and survivors are eligible to be nominated for the VIP Program.
Recipients are chosen based on their contributions to improving the quality of life in their military or neighboring communities.
"Being selected as one of the recipients for the VIP award has already brought attention to the 82nd Wounded Warrior Committee and I think that is great." Bauguess said. "Maybe someone will read about our Committee and start a similar one in their local area."
An awards ceremony Nov. 18 will recognize Bauguess and other VIP awardees and their contributions.
With roughly 30 members on the committee, the 82WWC is made up of Army spouses and surviving spouses and is a sub-committee of the All-American Strategic Response Force Association. The members visit wounded paratroopers while they are in the medical centers, bringing comfort items embellished with the division insignia to show appreciation to the Soldiers and to help them feel connected with the division.
Founded in October 2007, the committee is led by Bauguess, the surviving spouse of Maj. Larry J. Bauguess Jr., who was killed in combat May 14, 2007, supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. As a Soldier with the 82nd, Maj. Bauguess was very passionate about his division, she said, and that enthusiasm spilled over. When the opportunity to found the committee was presented, Bauguess took it eagerly.
She thinks it is wonderful to bring a smile to the Soldiers' faces.
"It's unlike anything else," she said, adding that she feels a special connection with the Soldiers of the 82nd, as it was her husband's division. "I just felt a bond with those guys up there."
Bauguess said it is very meaningful to be able to give the wounded Soldiers something in return for their service. The Soldiers enjoy the items and give plenty of positive feedback.
"It's completely satisfying for me to go there," Bauguess said of the visits.
The 82WWC welcomes paratroopers as they arrive at Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg and visits them during treatment and recovery at the hospital. Trips to visit Walter Reed are made monthly, and the committee tries to go to BAMC once a quarter.
Among the items the Soldiers have received are micro-bead pillows, full-zip fleece jackets, break-away athletic pants, athletic shorts, and t-shirts. The items are part of a wish list Soldiers assembled, Bauguess said, and are geared to accommodating various injuries. Over the next few visits Soldiers will receive rain jackets complete with the 82nd's insignia.
In addition to the clothing and pillows, the 82WWC brings hand-made thank you cards that hold messages of appreciation. The cards are available for the public to sign at various functions the committee attends, and are then sorted into small groups to be distributed to the Soldiers.
"They'll sit there and read every word," Bauguess said.
The committee welcomes anyone who would like to join, including other Soldiers, though it is currently all women. Bauguess said she decided to run the committee as a way to stay involved with the Army, and to honor the dedication of her husband and those like him.
"It's our way of giving back to these guys," she said, encouraging the public to thank Soldiers whenever they see one. "They are the best, they are the brightest."