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Wal-Mart Hosts Appreciation Picnic for Walter Reed Patients

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2004 – Good weather, good music and great food combined for one picnic full of thanks and appreciation from Walter Reed Army Medical Center patients.

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West Virginia National Guardsman Sgt. Dawn Adamson enjoyed the good food and good company at the Wal-Mart-sponsored Military Appreciation Picnic held at Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Mologne House Sept. 25. An Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, Adamson was joined by her friend, Robert Rice. She is a member of the 157th Military Police Company.
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The Military Appreciation Picnic, sponsored by Wal-Mart on Sept. 25, was the result of a company official's visit with a Walter Reed patient and former Wal- Mart employee.

Ray Bracy, Wal-Mart's vice president for federal and international public affairs, had stopped to chat with Henry "Austin" Reed and asked what he'd like most while he were in town. Bracy said Reed's request was simple: He wanted to go out and have lunch somewhere other than the cafeteria.

"Somewhere" turned out to be a civilian restaurant near Walter Reed, which made Reed start thinking. He wanted to give fellow patients a new dining experience too.

That spurred Bracy and Lee Scott, Wal-Mart's chief executive officer, who was also on that visit, into action. Three months later they had the food, the music and servicemembers at the picnic held in the Mologne House courtyard at Walter Reed.

And that brought excitement from patients like Sgt. Dawn Adamson, with the 157th MP Company, West Virginia National Guard, who has been at Walter Reed for a little over a year. "I think it's awesome (and) the food is excellent," she said.

Adamson, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, thinks the recreational events, like the picnic, are important to remind the patients that the "outside" world hasn't forgotten them.

"There are soldiers here, including myself, that are stuck here," she said. Adamson added that "people do appreciate what we've done, that they do recognize that we are here."

"It gets you out of your 'poor me,' you know, 'all my problems' mode," she said. "It gives a chance to meet with other soldiers and other people, civilians, that really do appreciate you. It makes you feel good."

Others said such events are good from the "something different" aspect too. Army Staff Sgt. Ron Lawler, 660th Transportation Company, said the recreational events are big morale boosts to those who have been at Walter Reed for a while.

"If you're here day in and day out, you get so bored yeah it helps," Lawler said, whose wife usually drives six-and-a-half hours from Ohio to visit him on the weekends.

Servicemembers who attended the picnic to show their support emphasized another importance to events like the appreciation picnic.

"It's important to keep supporting our soldiers when they come back from Iraq and Afghanistan -- show them that we're still with them even after they return," said Kye Allen, who works in aviation systems at Army National Guard offices in Arlington, Va.

Wal-Mart's Bracy said the picnic feedback was positive. The one thing that surprised him was an echo from the Vietnam era.

"As a veteran myself during the days of the Vietnam War, I found it interesting that some of the feelings that some of these folks have are similar to those days, that they're worried that people here don't appreciate them," Bracy said.

"(They) sort of all said that they realize through events like this one, and others, there's a lot of people doing nice things for them."

One person who did nice things for the wounded servicemembers at the picnic was songwriter Chuck Cannon. He performed a brief concert for the crowd, including "American Soldier," which he wrote for country music star Toby Keith.

Those working at the event were there to show their appreciation too. And in return people like Jerry "Chef Bubba" Womble received thanks from troops for preparing the feast.

Womble, who said he's fed the Dallas Cowboys, three presidents and a prince and princess, noted that "nothing has felt as good to me as coming here today to do this." He is new products director for Club Marketing Services.

"It's just been a wonderful experience," he said. "I'm just one old fat boy from Texas that represents millions and millions of people out there, and man, we love you guys," he told the patients.

Chef Bubba worked with his team, including Club Marketing Services CEO, Dalton Lott, to cook enough food for 1,000 people. By the end, most serving dishes were empty.

Lott's company provided food for the picnic, and he provided the words of appreciation directly to the servicemembers.

"People across America appreciate what you're doing and back you 100 percent. Mainland America - the people in the heart of America - love, appreciate you and thank you for what you've done."

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Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Staff Sgt. Ron Lawler's patriotism shows in his eyes. Having lost his right eye to an improvised explosive device in Iraq, Lawler said he pushed to get the flag placed on his false eye just like the one he had seen a Vietnam veteran with. Lawler, with the 660th Transportation Company, was enjoying the Wal-Mart-sponsored Military Appreciation Picnic at Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Mologne House Sept. 25.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageJerry "Chef Bubba" Womble, of Club Marketing Services, slices sausage for the Wal-Mart-sponsored Military Appreciation Picnic at Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Mologne House Sept. 25. Chef Bubba and his team cooked enough for 1,000 people and by the end the food was all but gone. Club Marketing Services provided most of the food for the picnic.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSongwriter Chuck Cannon gave the servicemembers and their families a brief concert that included a song he wrote for country music star Toby Keith. "American Soldier" was a big hit with the crowd at the Wal-Mart- sponsored Military Appreciation Picnic at Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Mologne House Sept. 25.  
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