By Air Force Master Sgt. Allison Day, Hickam Air Force Public AffairsSeptember 29, 2009
HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii - Fifty U.S. Army and Marine Corps wounded warriors were honored for their military service, here, Friday, when they got an exclusive Thunderbirds air show preview and the opportunity to meet a local hero.
The highlight of the day for many included meeting B.J. Penn, Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight champion, who stopped by to meet and spend time with America's heroes.
"He is very approachable," said Sgt. 1st Class James Lee, S-3 Operations noncommissioned officer in charge with the Warrior Transition Battalion, Schofield Barracks. "What I've seen on (television) and now in person are two different things."
The Soldier, who was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded in action, was awed that Penn expressed interest in meeting wounded warriors.
"I got to see another side of him when he shared his experiences with us," said Lee. "He is a humble champion, and I get to tell my friends, who are huge fight fans, that I met him."
It's great that he's giving back to the community in this way, Lee added.
During a 20-minute session, the wounded warriors asked Penn a variety of questions, from how he got involved in fighting to what he does to prepare for a fight. In the end, it was the celebrity who thought it was awesome to meet the wounded warriors.
I was in awe of meeting them," said Penn, a Hawaiian native. "I've traveled and met many wounded warriors, so it was great to come here, meet them and thank them for what they do for our country. These guys have been there in the line of fire, and they need to know that we support them."
Many of the warriors believe that B.J. Penn is one of them.
"It was great to have this opportunity, and all the Marines loved it," said Marine Staff Sgt. Shawn Garrett, logistics chief, Wounded Warriors Battalion, West Detachment, Hawaii. "It was a great experience."
One warrior, who is currently recovering from his wounds, added that he wasn't sure what to expect.
"It was interesting. I watch UFC, but never thought I'd get the chance to meet him," said Marine Cpl. Bradley Herold, who was wounded in Afghanistan and is currently assigned to the wounded Wounded Warriors Battalion, West Detachment, Hawaii. "I didn't expect to enjoy it as much. He seemed so down to earth for being as famous as he is. He is a warrior in the ring."
After the session, all the warriors met and took individual pictures with Penn, and many received autographed posters from him. They all agreed that meeting Penn was a boost to their morale.