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Military News

Altman: Volunteers needed for Veterans Wheelchair Games


Published:   |   Updated: June 10, 2013 at 08:07 AM

In the middle of next month, more than 500 veterans in wheelchairs, plus at least another 500 family members and helpers will descend upon Tampa for the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

The veterans will take part in events like trapshooting, basketball and a motorized rally at Raymond James Stadium.

I guarantee this is going to be an amazing event.

But the folks at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital, which is putting it on with the Paralyzed Veterans of America, are starting to sweat.

The games, which take place July 13 to 18, require volunteers to fill 3,000 four-hour slots. The deadline to sign up is June 15.

So far, despite how much the community usually turns out for events that support veterans, organizers have only filled about half the slots they need.

"The concern is high to get the word out," says Haley spokeswoman Karen Collins. "We are in that final push and pretty engaged right now."

The old show-biz adage, says Collins, will apply. The show will go on even if organizers can't fill all the volunteer slots.

But that could mean pulling VA staffers who don't effect patient services from around the region off their regular duties to help out, she says.

"We are working on the details of what we might do right now," says Collins.

Volunteers are needed to help veterans when they arrive, help them with their luggage and get in and out of their rooms. They are also needed to drive veterans around, help veterans get on and off buses, stay hydrated in the hot Florida sun and set up events like the slalom course.

"That's very complicated," says Collins.

I remember in the week leading up to the recent appearance of Gary Sinise's Lt. Dan Band at a concert to raise money for wounded Marine Mike Nicholson, organizers were in a near frenzy fearing that not enough people would show up.

But the event was a huge success.

Maybe it's just that folks here like to wait to the last minute before charging into the breech.

Well, in football parlance, it's fourth and long on the 50 and the two-minute warning has just sounded.

Want to volunteer? Sure you do. Just contact Camilla Thompson, Tampa Volunteer Coordinator at Wheelchair.games@va.gov or call (813)-972-2000, ext. 6580.

****When last I spoke to Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward, she had just wrapped up an investigation into the massive sexual assault scandal at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas where trainers were accused of sexually assaulting female airmen.

Woodward, who commanded MacDill Air Force Base from 2005 to 2007, told me that the investigation led to an epiphany of sorts in how rape cases are handled.

The investigation, released last November, found nearly 50 victims had been assaulted by trainers. Several trainers received courts-martial, two commanders were relieved of duty and several others were disciplined.

Woodward offered nearly four dozen recommendations, including making sure Air Force leaders understand how to better approach sexual assault allegations like those at MacDill.

"We will train all leadership to understand those really special dynamics of sexual assault so we can understand the victims better," Woodward told me back then. "That will help us."

At the time, Woodward was the Air Force chief of safety and commander of the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base.

Friday morning, the Air Force announced that Woodward is getting a new gig, as director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, Office of the Vice Chief of Staff, at the Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon.

Given the alarming problems of sexual assault in the military, Woodward has a big and tough job ahead. Having interviewed her a couple of times, I know that Woodward - who earned the call sign "Swamp Witch" while flying KC-135 tankers and who was the first woman to run a military operation when she commanded the air mission over Libya - is smart and tough.

I wish her all the best.

****Eight soldiers died last week in Afghanistan.

Second Lt. Justin L. Sisson, 23, of Phoenix, Ariz., and Spc. Robert A. Pierce, 20, of Panama, Okla. died June 3, in Tsamkani, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when their unit was attacked by a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. The soldiers were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.

Staff Sgt. Job M. Reigoux, 30, of Austin, Texas, died June 1, in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with a rocket-propelled grenade. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

Warrant Officer Sean W. Mullen, 39, of Dover, Del., died June 2, in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Campbell, Ky.

Pfc. Mariano M. Raymundo, 21, of Houston, Texas, died June 1, in Sharan, Afghanistan. The incident is under investigation. He was assigned to the 210th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.

Spc. Kyle P. Stoeckli, 21, of Moseley, Va., died June 1, in Maiwand, Afghanistan, from injuries sustained when his unit was attacked by an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas.

Spc. Ray A. Ramirez, 20, of Sacramento, Calif., died June 1, in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, from injuries sustained when his unit was attacked by an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

Staff Sgt. Joe A. Nunezrodriguez, 29, of Pasadena, Texas, died May 30, in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, from injuries sustained when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 68th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, 43rd Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.

There have now been 2,220 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation's longest war.

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

@haltman

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