America Supports You: Horse Runs for Wounded Troops, Families
By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 6, 2006 "Sweet Freedom," a 2-year-old racehorse, has started off his racing career with a bang, doing his part to support America's war wounded.
Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., pose with horse owner Bruno De Julio and his horse Sweet Freedom in the background at Hollywood Park racetrack in Inglewood, Calif., May 18. Sweet Freedom, a 2-year-old colt, is racing to support wounded troops through Freedom Is Not Free, an "America Supports You" member. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
The young colt has raced twice so far, winning his second race by a nose. His owners are donating two-thirds of their winnings from races run at Hollywood Park racetrack in Inglewood, Calif., to "Freedom Is Not Free," a nonprofit group that offers financial aid to wounded troops and their families.
"It's about the guys and the gals that are out there," co-owner Bruno De Julio said the day after the horse's first win, June 1. "I know the guys don't make a lot of money, but it's their heart. ... It's the same thing with racehorses. Sweet Freedom ran like a Marine yesterday. He had a mission and he accomplished it, no matter what, and he overcame adversity to do it too."
In that race, Sweet Freedom stumbled as he left the gate but quickly recovered, making up for lost ground and narrowly prevailing, according to the racing chart.
De Julio said he has worked with horses for over 20 years. He publishes books on horse training and writes tip sheets to help people place good bets at the track. He has helped troop support groups before, such as the United Warriors Survivor Foundation, a group providing aid to the spouses of special operations troops killed in action.
The idea to race a horse and give the proceeds to charity came through a partnership between De Julio, trainer Shane Chipman, and John Brocklebank, who bought Sweet Freedom.
In March, they connected with Carl Frank, president of Freedom Is Not Free, and offered to give 66 percent of their winnings to the charity. In his first start, Sweet Freedom earned over $2,000 for wounded veterans.
De Julio said his partners want to be bought out eventually. When someone else buys their shares in the colt, proceeds for the charity may fall to 25 percent of the horse's winnings.
"My portion of the horse will be for charity, for Freedom Is Not Free, for the combat wounded and the families of the less fortunate ones who have lost a loved one in the war on terror," De Julio said. Expecting someone else to invest in a horse and then give the proceeds to charity isn't fair, so whether the new co-owners keep up the donations is up to them, he said.
De Julio said he would like to sponsor a new charity each year with a new young horse, which is an expensive undertaking. It costs about $3,000 per month to keep a racehorse training -- not including veterinarian bills, paying the jockey and other expenses, he said. Still, he said, the money and work are worth it to do some good.
"I think that you hear a lot of complaints about the country and complaints about things that are going on right now, but yet the people that complain don't take any steps to do anything about it," he said. "And I think this way, if we all took a step to try to do something about it, and do something to help people, then it would alleviate some of the stress we put on our government."
Frank said his organization is thrilled to have this kind of sponsorship. His group, based in San Diego, works closely with other nonprofit groups, military hospitals in the area, and "America Supports You," a Defense Department program highlighting grassroots and corporate support for the nation's servicemembers and their families.
A committee, called the "Purple Heart Advisory Board," is central to Freedom Is Not Free. The board goes through grant applications and offers money to those families most in need, Frank said. The applications often come from other nonprofit groups, such as "Beacon of Hope," the "Coalition to Salute America's Heroes" and the United Warrior Survivor Foundation.
"They'll submit a list to us of wounded troops that are in their area and what their wound is and how much financial aid they've received and why they need some additional help," he said. "Then we will vet that out, and if we award the grant, we stipulate to them that the funds all have to go directly to that troop. None of it goes to overhead or anything like that."
The advisory board is made up of four people, three of whom were awarded the Purple Heart for sustaining combat wounds. Frank, a former member of the 101st Airborne Division, was wounded in Vietnam. Marine Lt. Col. David Coffman and Marine Capt. Steve Mount, two helicopter pilots, were both wounded in Iraq in 2004. The fourth member of the board is Russ Harris, an entrepreneur and the son of a naval officer killed in World War II.
Since the two Marine officers were wounded and went through their rehabilitation in the last two years, Frank said, "They were pretty fresh on what the troops needed," and that perspective has helped the group offer effective help.
Since its inception in early 2005, the board has granted $150,000 to wounded troops and the families of those killed in action. The group has also committed to refurbishing the family lounges at Naval Medical Center San Diego and building a climbing wall to help troops recuperate there.
For both of Sweet Freedom's races, the group sent wounded Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., to cheer the horse on. "They get to sit in the owner's box, and they get to go down to the paddock and meet the jockey and the trainer before the race," Frank said. "They really enjoy it, and of course the race fans love it too because these guys are in their uniform, and they get a big hand -- it's a real nice situation."
Although support for the troops is much better than in the Vietnam era, Frank said the nation could always do better, and that's where his group fits in. "Unfortunately, there are still a lot of situations where things just fall through the cracks. There are people who have needs that are not being addressed," he said.