I was 15 when the U.S. government stopped drafting 18-year-olds into the military and, as a young person who loved the music of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and other “protest” song writers, I was happy not to be forced into military service after I graduated from high school.

As someone who hasn’t picked up any type of gun since riflery in summer camp (and with my Mr. Magoo-like vision, I was a terrible shot), I have always appreciated the fact that, throughout our history, there have been, and still are, brave young men (and now, of course, women, too) who willingly choose to enlist in our Armed Forces. Several of both of my sons’ friends (including Wharton High grad Brandon Allen, who just signed up this spring) have chosen this path and I not only respect and admire all of them, I actually thank each of them for their service.

I know I am not unique in terms of how I feel about not only those who serve in any branch of the U.S. military, but also anyone who becomes a police officer or fire fighter. These are the people who run towards the battlefields and disasters more than 90 percent of us choose to run or stay away from. For that reason alone, I believe they are not only praiseworthy, I also believe it is our responsibility to take care of each and every one of them.

To that end, I have to again commend my dear friend Valerie Casey for her unflinching, neverending quest to raise money for the Tampa Fisher House, the residence located on the grounds of the James A. Haley Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital that, for free, houses the families of the soldiers being treated at the VA — our nation’s leading brain and spine trauma center.

In addition to running her own golf tournament to benefit the Fisher House, Valerie, a long-time member of the GFWC (General Federation of Women’s Clubs) New Tampa Junior Woman’s Club (NTJWC), didn’t need to do too much convincing to get president April Simons and the Board of the NTJWC to select the House as the 2012 beneficiary of the 15th annual “Night of 5000” gala on April 21.

Valerie and her co-chair, Isabelle Jensen, and their sizable committee of NTJWC members, put on a spectacular evening (see page 45) and raised around $10,000 net, but walking around Hunter’s Green Country Club that evening and talking to not only our wounded warriors but also some of the doctors who care for them, I realized how important our VA Hospital and our Fisher House truly are.

I have previously written stories about U.S. Army Sgt. Joel Tavera, who would surely be dead today if not for the efforts of New Tampa resident Dr. Steven Scott, the chief of physical rehab medicine at the Haley VA, and the other amazing surgeons and doctors at our VA hospital. Well, not only was Joel on hand for the “Night,” several other wounded heroes and their families also attended the event as honored guests — including Purple Heart recipients Romy Camargo, an Army Ranger, and Marine Lt. Col. Ben (Ty) Edwards, who was featured on the cover of The Patriot magazine (the Fisher House program’s national magazine) with Dr. Scott in May 2011.

“We’ve gotten so much better at putting these soldiers back together,” said Dr. Scott, who wants to write a book about his experiences at the Haley VA since the first Gulf War, “but unfortunately, our enemies continue to get better at blowing them up, too. Sadly, this will never be an easy process for us, our wounded or their families.”

I also got to chat with Trinity resident and Ret. U.S. Army Capt. Greg Amira, who was treated at our Fisher House after being blown up in 2007 by an IED that killed his friend and commander in Iraq. The perhaps even more amazing thing is that Greg, a New York City native, already was on full disability from his civilian job (he was working for Morgan Stanley on the 73rd floor of World Trade Center Tower #2 on 9/11). But somehow, he was still deployed by the Army Special Operations Center and completed more than 150 combat patrols before the explosion. Today, he is the founder, chairman and president of the Wounded Vets Assn (WoundedVets. org).

Perhaps the most amazing thing I saw first-hand that evening was the incredible fighting spirit that still lives within these soldiers and their amazing families. I thank God for each of them, for the VA Hospital and for the Fisher House. What a “Night” it truly was!


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