By Matt Wiley

From sporting events to the Republican National Convention (RNC) that will invade Tampa later this month, the U.S. flag is presented at events at many events to honor those who fight and have fought for the freedom of our nation. One color guard group, lead by a Meadow Pointe resident, carries not only Old Glory, but also hope and inspiration for wounded vets and amputees, alike.

Since March, Rudy Salas, a retired U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. who lives in Meadow Pointe, has been the commander of the Amputee Veterans of America Support Team (AVAST) Amputee Color Guard which, Salas says, is the nation’s only all-amputee color guard.

AVAST is a support group based out of the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital located on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. The group helps those who have recently experienced an amputation to adapt and become independent individuals. Salas also serves as AVAST’s president.

Salas says he got the idea for an amputee color guard while attending the American Veterans Adaptive Golf Program, which meets on Fridays at the Terrace Hill Golf Club in Temple Terrace. He says that he and the other members of the program would get invited to 20-30 golf tournaments a year, most of which had opening ceremonies, usually including a color guard presentation from the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), MacDill Air Force Base or the American Legion.

“I thought to myself one day, ‘Why don’t we put a color guard together?,’” he says. “We can have a unique situation where each member is an amputee. At first it was difficult getting people to buy into the idea. A lot of the amputees think, ‘No, we can’t do that.’ My response is always, ‘Yes we can. We’re just like everybody else, except we’re just a little more unique.’”

So, Salas got together with six others from AVAST and the Adaptive Golf Program and put his idea to work. The group consists of Jack Wiseman and Bob Fleischman as the group’s two flag bearers, and Jerry Lemoyne and Steve Allberry as the group’s two riflemen. The color guard also has two alternates — Jim Daniels and Doc Milligan. Of the seven in the group, six are Vietnam veterans. Allberry represents amputees in the civilian community which, according to Salas, also is important.

“There are a lot of amputees out there in civilian life, and we wanted someone to represent those amputees, too,” he explains. “So, Steve represents the community.”

Salas says that due to the prosthetics involved, a lot of the formations and drill steps had to be modified.

“Our guys can’t turn certain ways,” he explains. “We had to adjust our drilling and marching to make it look good. And it works.”

The color guard’s first appearance was May 14 at Hunter’s Green Country Club in New Tampa, where the quintet presented the colors during a golf tournament to raise money for the Haley VA Hospital’s research and development department.

“It was pretty nerve-racking,” says Wiseman. “Even though we’re almost all ex-military, getting back into the marching routine and remembering the moves took a lot of practice.”

Wiseman, who retired from the U.S. Army as a Private First Class and currently resides in Lutz, says that re-learning the drills was a little easier for him because he is an upper extremity amputee, while the other guys in the group are all lower extremity amputees, all of which are missing only one leg.

“The marching takes a lot of practice for the leg amputees,” he says. “Of course, they won’t let me carry a rifle because of only having one hand, so I carry the American flag and make sure it stays straight up at all times.”

Wiseman met Salas through the Adaptive Golf Program and then became involved in AVAST. He now serves as the group’s vice president.



Full Speed Ahead

Ever since the color guard’s first appearance, the group has been a hit, and their calendar shows it.

“We did the first couple of golf tournaments, and then it was just ‘boom, boom, boom,’” says Wiseman. “We have booking after booking all the way through November right now.”

But, they have bigger plans than just presenting the colors at local fund raisers and golf tournaments.

“We started thinking, ‘Where can this go?’” Salas explains. “Then someone mentioned that the RNC was coming to town. So, we started calling people to see who they knew. We hope to present the colors for the convention. We’ve been talking to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s people. We’ve also spoken with U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis to see if we can be considered. We’re trying to get the word out about us.”

The color guard’s next big event will be on September 7, when they will be presenting the colors at a golf tournament at the Cheval Golf & Country Club in Lutz, along with four other color guards, although they will be making appearances at a few smaller events before then.

Since the color guard is a part of AVAST, presenting the colors is more than just representing the nation at different events — its goal is to raise awareness of AVAST in the community.

“It brings attention to the community and to the people who are involved in the war effort right now,” explains Salas. “A lot of the soldiers coming back are amputees. We wanted to show the people of the community and the nation that even though you’re an amputee, you can still come back and be a part of society. A lot of these young guys don’t know that.”

For additional information about AVAST and/or the Amputee Color Guard, please visit

Recommended Posts

No comment yet, add your voice below!

Add a Comment