By Jason Koler
Brian Mast spent 12 years in the armed services before he became truly proud of his country.
“From that moment, when I woke up in the hospital on September 24, it has been a non-stop storm of generosity and goodwill from around the country that everyone should be proud of,” said the former EOD Tech who was wounded nearly a year to the day he was invited to Hawks Cay Resort for the annual “Hero’s Welcome.”
This past week, the five wounded heroes and their families enjoyed accommodations at the luxury resort through the united efforts of local businesses and Healing Our Wounded Heroes (HOWH), a non-profit organization dedicated to “providing support, resources, activities, and educational and fun family events that will assist in the physical and emotional healing of our country’s Heroes and their families.”
Founded by Nathan and Wendy Stodghill, HOWH is not unlike other organizations supporting military personnel returning from service with life changing injuries.
“We exist for the ones who have nothing,” Stodghill said from his home office. “My goal is to expose the public to the plight of the wounded solider. We want to bring awareness to the non-visible injuries, which could be much worse,” he said, referring to the Traumatic Brain Injuries plaguing service men and women.
He added that 70 to 80 percent of wounded soldiers returning from overseas end up filing for divorce. Many battle substance abuse problems that spiral out of control as they adjust to civilian life with lower brain function.
“That is why we reach out to families,” Stodghill said. “Our goal is to bring families together. If you can heal the family, you heal the soldier.”
Mast, who lost his legs in Iraq, is a wounded warrior whose injuries bring attention to those suffering from invisible wounds.
Troy Horn is a former member of the 101st Airborne Division whose resume is yet to be de-classified. He was injured during training when the discs in his back exploded. His unpretentious speech did not offer any insight into his daily battles with pain.
Studghill says Horn is pushed to the brink on a daily basis, but is more likely to talk about others sacrifices, rather than his own.
“I would like to thank Hawks Cay,” he said. “You are the epitome of professionalism, and I am humbled by your overwhelming display of generosity and graciousness.”
Horn fished with Saltwater Experience’s Captain Derek Rust.
“You have given each of us an experience like no other that we will remember for a lifetime,” he said. “We will cherish those memories forever.”
According to Rust and his fellow guides, the fishing was just as special for them as their clients.
“We just went out and bent the rods,” Rust said. “We caught a tarpon, jack and hooked a couple sharks. He was used to pond fishing for catfish, so it was pretty awesome.”
As a 20-foot tall video screen broadcast images of firefighters, police officers and other service men and women, the final speaker articulated the meaning of heroes in today’s society.
Retired NASA Astronaut Mario Runco, Jr. logged more than 500 hours in space including a 4-hour space walk. He spoke about his childhood heroes like Mickey Mantle and John Wayne before calling on his audience to question their mores.
“Choose your terms carefully,” he said. “There are lots of people we call heroes but only very few who really are, and we do not do enough in this nation to honor them.”
Now through the end of October, Hawks Cay will be hosting weekly outdoor tributes dedicated to present and past men and women of the military, fire and rescue, police, sworn officers and medical personnel, and groups like HOWH will continue to lobby on their behalf.
For more information, please visit www.HealingOurWoundedHeroes.org.