Gala Raises Money for Wounded Troops
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 15, 2006 Covered in blood and only able to stagger a few feet before collapsing in a heap, Army Sgt. Nicholas Beintema was one of the lucky ones. Many of his fellow soldiers did not survive the blast that ripped through his convoy near Tal Afar, Iraq, last year.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England examines a pocketknife that was part of an Armed Forces Foundation auction at its 2nd Annual Congressional Gala in Washington, June 14. At the gala, England received the foundation's Patriot Award, which he said America's servicemembers truly deserve. Photo by Steven Donald Smith
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
In an effort to help Beintema, and many like him, to recover from injuries sustained during the war on terror, the Armed Forces Foundation held its 2nd annual congressional fundraising gala here last night.
The event included the auctioning-off of numerous donated items, such as sports memorabilia, fishing equipment, an Aaron Tippin autographed guitar, and a 1926 Model T Ford donated by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England. England was the high bidder on the car at last year's gala, but turned it back over to the foundation.
The Armed Forces Foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides various services to troops. For instance, the foundation has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for hotel bills and to offset the expenses of families visiting wounded loved ones in the hospital, and has organized hunting and fishing trips for troops and their families.
Beintema was one of several wounded servicemembers who attended the gala as special guests. The 23-year-old was injured in the spring of 2005 when a makeshift bomb struck his vehicle. He suffered facial injuries and eventually lost his right leg. He has been recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here for the past 13 months.
Beintema said he is grateful to his doctors at Walter Reed, the American public, and to the foundation for all the support they have provided.
"To me, getting hurt was an eye opener. It's an opportunity," Beintema said. "I fought for what I believe in. I'm not hurt, I'm not disabled, I'm not handicapped. I'm just different, and I'll use it to my benefit to succeed in life, and the Armed Forces Foundation is there to help us do that."
He referred to the foundation's president, Patricia Driscoll, as an "awesome woman."
Beintema participated in one of the foundation's deer-hunting excursions. He said it was a wonderful experience and a major part of his healing process.
"That was physical therapy for me," he said. "I got to do something I've never done before."
Various awards were handed out at last night's event. The deputy defense secretary received the foundation's Patriot Award.
England said it was an honor to receive the award but added that America's servicemembers are the ones who truly deserve such accolades. "It's a great evening to pay tribute to all men and women who have sacrifices for our liberty and for our freedom," he said
"In the struggle against terrorism these men and women are the thin line, but the thick wall that literally separates the freedom, liberty and prosperity that we all enjoy from total chaos," the secretary continued. "God bless them for their service."
England also thanked the families of servicemembers and the American people for their continued support of the troops.
"There are people who are active in the "America Supports You" program. There are people in churches, synagogues and mosques who provide special programs for military personnel and for their families," he said.
America Supports You is a Defense Department initiative that highlights how Americans across the country are supporting military personnel.
England said the Armed Forces Foundation, an America Supports You member, epitomizes American compassion and commitment. "Every day the foundation is working to improve the lives of troops and their families," he said. "I thank all of you for your patriotism."
Also receiving an award last night was California congressman and Vietnam War veteran Duncan Hunter. While accepting the Humanitarian of the Year award Hunter commented on the uniqueness that defines America and its reverence for the men and women who wear the country's uniform.
"In America we don't have kings and queens. Our royalty are the people who wear the uniform of the United States," he said.
TriWest Healthcare was the primary sponsor of last night's fundraiser, which raised $750,000.