By Sgt. David Bruce, Camp Atterbury Public Affairs
CAMP ATTERBURY JOINT MANEUVER TRAINING CENTER, Ind.- With so many Americans living in such a precarious financial situation, sometimes all it takes is one significant event to send the fortunes of these citizens to spiral into ruin. Like an array of dominoes, tipping one causes the rest to fall. And sometimes all they need is a helping hand.
Wish for Our Heroes offers that helping hand for active duty servicemembers. It is a charitable non-profit organization that started in November 2009. While other charities exist to help troops, this one tends to focus on the more extreme circumstances. Jeff Wells, president and founder of Wish for Our Heroes, said Wish for Our Heroes focuses on the average servicemember.
“I was in the Army, on active duty for four years,” said Wells. “I deployed to Baghdad and spent a tour in Korea and I saw firsthand the struggles our military members went through with family separation, with the toll that takes, and things of that nature,” he said. “On top of that, my dad – he was a retired Marine – passed away last year in April. He fought in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He had a love for military members and this is something he and I have always talked about doing,” said Wells. “I want to do something for the average Soldier.”
After the death of his father, Wells approached the owner of the Phoenix Group, a logistics company headquartered in Greenwood, Ind., for whom he worked, with the idea of Wish for Our Heroes. Wells volunteered to run the foundation and the Phoenix Group agreed to donate 10 percent of pre-tax earnings to get Wish for Our Heroes started. Wish for Our Heroes is run on an all volunteer basis.
Servicemembers are nominated through via the Wish for Our Heroes Web site, telephone or mail. Once the nomination is received, it goes through a screening process and categorized according to need and complexity. For immediate needs, such as transportation and food, funds can be made available to help the recipient. Other requests are posted to their Web site where anybody can donate to specific cases. Wells said the Web site system allows for greater transparency so that donors can track their donation and be sure that all of it goes to the person in need.
Thus far Wish for Our Heroes granted 38 wishes totaling more than $60,000 in 12 states. Eight of those wishes have been granted in Indiana alone.
One such case is Indiana Army National Guard Sgt. Ronald Smith. Smith is on active duty at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training with the Directorate of Logistics as an Army maintenance management system clerk. Smith's vehicle had broken down and he was having difficulty getting it fixed.
“I was having some problems, both financially and with my vehicle, said Smith. “I went to see Master Sgt. Strope, noncommissioned officer in charge of Directorate of Logistics-Maintenance, to find out if there were any Army programs to help me get my vehicle fixed. He had heard of this organization called Wish for Our Heroes and contacted them,” said Smith.
Prior to the intervention of Wish for Our Heroes, Smith had been relying on others for his transportation needs.
At the time, Smith's finances were strapped considering he had custody of his children and was still paying child support.
“They surprised me. I thought that they were just going to fix my car,” said Smith. “They then showed up with a new vehicle. They really went beyond all expectations. During Christmas, they also gave presents to my kids,” said Smith.
Staff Sgt. Brandon Webb, another Indiana Army National Guard Soldier on active duty at Camp Atterbury, was also having car problems.
“My transmission went out and I couldn't afford to fix it. My best friend, Brian Wilcox, had heard about Wish for Our Heroes on Channel 13 News. So he called them and explained the situation,” said Webb.
Webb was notified by e-mail to get an estimate for repairs to his car. While his car was being worked on, Wish for Our Heroes went the extra step to provide a rental car.”They are a great group of people,” said Webb. “They really came to my rescue. If my best friend didn't tell them about my issues, I don't know what I would have done.”
Sgt. Ronald Smith, assigned to Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, Ind. received a car from Wish for Our Heroes when his previous vehicle broke-down and was deeded irreparable. Wish for Our Heroes is a non-profit charity that seeks to aid active duty servicemembers whose circumstances have gone beyond control. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. David