Maryland VFW Give Wounded Troops a Well-Deserved Break

Life at Walter Reed Army Medical Center can be long, painful and especially boring. Many service members are separated from their family and friends and coping with injuries that may leave them disabled for life.

Sandi Kriebel, past state president, VFW Department of Maryland Ladies Auxiliary, was determined to provide a "bright spot" for these brave men and women.

In the midst of planning the annual VFW Department of Maryland state convention, Kriebel got an idea. What if wounded troops from nearby Walter Reed could join in the festivities for a couple of days?

Maryland Convention

"When their families are not around, injured service members get down," said Kriebel. "We wanted to let them know that we care."

Fellow VFW and Ladies Auxiliary VFW in Maryland jumped at the idea. Soon donations were pouring in, even from the community.

Their combined efforts raised $15,000 enough to bring 27 military families to Ocean City, Md., a popular vacation spot where the Convention was being held last June. The Walter Reed Army Medical Center graciously offered to bring the troops, many of whom needed medical transport due to their injuries or amputations.

Once there, the military families savored the moments away from the hospital … relaxing with friends … and enjoying their families.

"There was a huge swimming pool and lots of activities," described Kriebel. "We were built-in grandparents watching over the kids to give the couples the chance to spend some time alone."

VFW members filled goodie bags with gift cards (many donated by local restaurants), beach toys for the children and other sundries for every family.

Army Staff Sergeant John Borders, London, Ohio, lost the lower half of his right leg after an IED explosion. He was thrilled to spend time with his wife Mollie, and their two children Brittany, 12, and Xander, 2.

"It was the best experience," he said. "We have never felt so welcomed; it seemed we were applauded everywhere we went!"

Borders said there was so much to share with fellow veterans.

"The camaraderie was instantaneous. VFW members know what it’s like … they’ve walked in our shoes," he said.

The highlight of the weekend came the final night, when the Convention hosted a dance.

"Couples danced, children played and life was as it should be," said Kriebel. "Everyone was able to smile and laugh, and for a moment, all the pressures were gone."

There was not a dry eye in the house when Staff Sgt. Borders, other soldiers and their families sang "God Bless America." Everyone joined hands in a symbol of dramatic unity.

"I’ve been a member of the VFW for 30 years, and that was the most powerful and unbelievable experience," she said. "It was a memory we’ll always keep in our hearts."

Plans are underway to bring even more wounded troops to next year’s Convention.

"Many other VFW Departments are pitching in," Kriebel said. "It’s just amazing the outpouring of support.


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