As though walking down a celebrities’ red carpet, service members and their families—105 in all—made their way toward the venue for this year’s Troop Appreciation Dinner. The Texas de Brazil Steakhouse in Tampa, Florida, was decked out in masses of red and yellow roses to welcome the guests of honor: patients of the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital. In attendance were veterans from the hospital’s polytrauma unit, which serves veterans suffering from spinal injuries.
Arriving guests visited our photo booth, where Katie Lancaster Photography provided favor portraits to take home. Then our heroes and their escorts were treated to a lavish salad bar and assorted cuts of meat, finishing with cheesecake and fried bananas.
In between bites of food, the stories being told around the dining room were remarkable.
Brian was shot in the stomach while deployed to Afghanistan and was unable to eat for a year and a half. He said this was his “first good meal in two years!” When the bullet exited his stomach, it hit his spine, paralyzing him from the waist down.
Brian has been recovering in Tampa, while his children are in Maryland. His father, John, a truck driver, happened to be traveling through the area on the day of the event, and he was able to attend with his son.
“I’m thankful for the chance to get out and actually be a part of something,” said Sam, a new recruit. A blow to the head sent Sam here during his first week of boot camp. Speech is difficult for him, but he let us know that he would appreciate a visit from Freedom Alliance while he’s in the hospital.
Ryan had recently returned stateside when he saw a car accident on the side of the road. He pulled over to help and woke up from a coma a week later, not knowing he had been hit by car. This was his second Freedom Alliance dinner, and we were happy to see how he was getting along.
Josh was blinded and lost his hearing in one ear as a result of an explosion. His wife, Lindsey, and their three children, are looking forward to Josh’s forthcoming release from the hospital, so they can move back to New Mexico, where the rest of their family lives. This was the third annual troop dinner with us, and we wish them the best in their transition.
Romy is another character we see year after year, making slow but steady progress in his recovery. His daughter was awarded a Freedom Alliance scholarship to attend college, and she has made the decision to serve in our country’s armed services. Romy is so proud.
These are a few of the heroes who dined with us. Whether injured in combat, in boot camp, or after coming home from war, each has a challenge ahead of him, as he struggles to heal.
The rehabilitation program offered at James A. Haley polytrauma includes a therapy called “Community Reintegration.” This means that patients are reintroduced to social functions and other communal arenas outside of the hospital/military setting, which may include crowds and public meals.
We at Freedom Alliance feel that these troop appreciation dinners not only demonstrate our gratitude for our country’s service members, but also serve a purpose in their therapy regimen.