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Wounded Troops Support Upcoming 'Salute Heroes' Conference

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Sept. 16, 2004 – Army Spc. B.J. Jackson lost two legs after his Humvee tripped a phosphorous landmine hidden along the road in downtown Baghdad last August. Army Sgt. Joshua Forbess lost part of his nose and ear -- and 17 fellow soldiers -- after a fiery mid-air Black Hawk helicopter collision over Mosul, Iraq, last November.

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Army Sgt. Joshua Forbess, left, and retired Spc. B.J. Jackson, both seriously wounded in Iraq, are supporting the upcoming Coalition to Salute America's Heroes Road to Recovery Conference and Tribute, to be held December in Orlando, Fla. Photo by Donna Miles

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

But both men gained a resolve to move forward with their lives and to help other wounded combat veterans do the same. They're supporting the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, a nonprofit organization committed to helping troops wounded in the war on terror, as well as their families.

The organization aims to provide an ongoing network of support services for the military community, particularly those seriously wounded, disabled servicemembers, and families of those killed in action.

Jackson and Forbess are actively helping the group plan and finance its first Road to Recovery Conference and Tribute, to be held at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., Dec. 8 to 12.

Some 400 severely wounded servicemembers and their families will attend the conference, which Jackson said will offer "one-stop shopping" about programs and benefits available for wounded troops. The conference will feature seminars about education and employment, demonstration workshops on group therapy, and private needs-assessment consultations and evaluations.

But one of the best aspects of the conference, Jackson said, will be the opportunity for wounded combat veterans to hear inspiring success stories from fellow disabled veterans while enjoying special entertainment and Disney World amusements with their families.

"We expect it to be a real bonding experience on many levels," he said. "We want it to be both fun and meaningful, for the soldiers as well as their families."

Forbess, who returned to his 101st Airborne Division unit in June, said he hopes to share his story that helped him cope with the loss of 17 comrades in arms and recover from his extensive injuries.

"It's all in here," Forbess said, tapping his chest. "As long as you have heart, there's nothing to stop you."

The Disney World conference is just the first of the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes' planned efforts to help wounded troops and their families. Jackson said the group plans efforts to help families of servicemembers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and hopes to eventually become a "clearinghouse" that steers wounded troops toward programs geared toward their needs.

"And if we find a need where there's no program, we'll start one," Jackson said.

Response to the program has been strong. Jackson, who now wears two prostheses and was medically retired from the Army in June, travels regularly to meet with business and civic leaders to encourage support.

The Coalition to Salute America's Heroes hopes to raise $3 million to finance the Disney World conference. Jackson plans to raise $125,000 in donations from his home state of Iowa.

It's a goal he feels confident he and the salute coalition will meet. "A lot of people care and want to help," he said. "Americans recognize that we've sacrificed a lot and want to say, 'Thank you.'"

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Coalition to Salute America's Heroes

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