WISH for OUR HEROES (W4OH) board members, Jeff Wells and Erich Orrick, joined country music superstar, Collin Raye, and an entire team of dedicated military supporters on a North Carolina tour (March 19-22) to grant wishes for military families facing difficult circumstances. The trip was given the code name ‘Operation Tar Heel’, as it spanned three cities and two of the largest military bases in the United States. The team met in Dunn, North Carolina, travelled to Fort Bragg, then wrapped up the tour at Camp Lejeune, granting 11 wishes in the process.
In Dunn, employees of Wal Mart store number 1237 assisted the wish team in purchasing a stockpile of items for families residing at the Fort Bragg Fisher House. “The Fisher House houses military families during difficult times,” Raye explained as he signed autographs for a line of fans at the Dunn Wal Mart store. “We’re honored to visit this wonderful facility, and along with Wish for Our Heroes, we’re going to try to brighten the day for several military families.” Following Raye’s store appearance and purchasing the items needed for the first set of wishes, the wish team gathered to discuss the execution of Operation Tar Heel in detail.
David McCall, a Customer Development Manager for Coca Cola, worked extremely hard for the last month or so to make this trip possible. McCall, an avid fan of our military, has a long-standing tradition of military service within his family. “My family has always believed in serving our country, and most importantly, serving those who serve,” McCall proudly explained. “On behalf of Coca Cola and Wal-Mart, we’re so excited to work with W4OH and Collin to make these wishes happen.” McCall, along with other Coca Cola employees, worked directly with Wal-Mart stores in the Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune areas to arrange and sponsor this tour.
Following the team’s preparation in Dunn, the team travelled to Fayetteville, North Carolina to prepare for a series of wishes granted at Fort Bragg. “We have four military families we’ll be working to assist here at Fort Bragg,” Dave Fowler added. Fowler is the owner of Nashville Artist Management, and manages Collin Raye and other country music stars across the U.S. Fowler, who has a deep-rooted passion for helping our military members, also worked long hours to ensure that this tour went off without a hitch. Around lunch time, Wells walked into the Fort Bragg Fisher House and introduced Collin Raye to a standing ovation from Fort Bragg soldiers. Wells explained the mission of W4OH, and Raye explained how honored he was to visit the soldiers of Fort Bragg. Following introductions, the soldiers helped carry in a truck-load of gift for the four military families staying at the Fisher House.
Gifts ranged from household appliances to toys for the children. Collin and Wells presented the gifts to the families and then called the Rudd Family to the front of the room. Blake Rudd, a soldier from the 82nd Airborne Division, and his wife Sarah, have two children, one of which was born with Down Syndrome. Joshua, born 15 months ago, often has difficulty breathing, and the family could not afford a breathing machine, called an oximeter, which would assist Joshua’s breathing. The military healthcare system would not cover the cost of this machine, so Wells and Raye presented the Rudd family with an oximeter for Joshua. ‘This is just incredible,” Raye exclaimed as he held Joshua. Following the wishes, Raye mingled with troops and as a result of their encouragement, unveiled his guitar and played ‘Love, Me’, a number one hit from his platinum album, ‘All I Can Be’ (one of 4 platinum albums he released). The 50 or so soldiers in attendance watched silently as tears began to flow. Lorie Southerland, assistant manager of the Fisher House, was blown away by the emotion of the event. “This is so wonderful, this whole experience. These soldiers are like our children, and when we see them happy like this, it brings us so much joy,” Lorie said. Lorie understands the sacrifices of military life. She lost her son, Specialist Michael Rodriguez, in the line of duty,April 2007. Lorie also played a critical role in planning Operation Tar Heel, as she worked to determine the Fisher House families’ needs without ruining the surprise.
Following the Fort Bragg visit, the wish team proceeded to Wal Mart store number 2929 in Fayetteville to prepare for the following day’s wish granting activities. “Tomorrow is going to be a big day,” Wells explained. “We’re granting wishes for 6 families at the Camp Lejeune Fisher House, and then we’re granting a very special wish for the Palmer family, also at Camp Lejeune. Lots of things have to happen in the next 24 hours to make these wishes go off without a hitch. Failure isn’t an option here.” As Collin Raye greeted his fans in Fayetteville, the remainder of the team (with the assistance of Wal-Mart employees), scrambled around to buy another truckload of gifts for the six families at the Camp Lejeune Fisher House.
In addition to Collin’s celebrity presence on the wish team, Drew Waters, accomplished actor, producer, and model, volunteered his time to fly in from Dallas, Texas to participate in Operation Tar Heel. Drew, a former member of the U.S. Navy, also has a strong passion for helping our troops. “As a former Seaman, I am thrilled to be part of something like this,” Waters explained as the remainder of the team chuckled. “Our heroes need to understand that while they’re working hard to accomplish their mission, they have people back home who care about them very much. We’re here to help in any way possible.” Along with Waters, Mickey Stroud, also a producer, flew in to assist the wish team. ‘I’ve seen many powerful stories in my life, but this is one of the most powerful and worthwhile causes I’ve ever been a part of,” Stroud added.
Following the procurement of the Camp Lejeune items at Wal Mart, the team deployed to Jacksonville, North Carolina, where they regrouped and made final preparations for the Camp Lejeune wishes. Along the way, Erich Orrick stopped by the Remax office in Jacksonville to pick up a truck, kindly donated by K.P. and Todd Daugherty of the Jacksonville Remax branch. “K.P. and Todd have been so kind to let us use this truck for the next two days to grant these wishes,” Orrick explained. Following pick-up of the truck, Orrick drove to meet Sonya Dillard. Dillard, a combat casualty nurse at Camp Lejeune, had recommended the Palmer family to W4OH, and also assisted in the logistics surrounding the wish. “As a combat nurse, I have worked with hundreds of wounded military members, but this family is different. The Palmer family has sacrificed so much, and yet they have so little (material possessions),” Dillard discussed.
Upon arrival in Jacksonville, the wish team met Dillard and Becky Palmer for dinner to strategize on the delivery of the wish for Lance Corporal Palmer the following day. LCPL Palmer was severely wounded by an IED blast while deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. Palmer lost his leg, and suffers from a traumatic brain injury and severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Dillard reached out to W4OH and explained that after all the LCPL Palmer had sacrificed, the family suffered from a very difficult financial situation and lived in a trailer outside of Camp Lejeune with very few pieces of furniture. “Becky and LCPL Palmer sleep on a mattress with their 3-year old son Cameron” Sonya informed the wish team. “The remainder of the house is sparsely furnished, and they forced to keep their clothes in garbage bags, because they don’t have anywhere to store them.” The Palmer’s also have a 5-month old daughter, Faith, and although they live in tough conditions, they’re not concerned about material items. “We only care about being together as a family,” explained Becky. “We were so scared when Daniel (LCPL Palmer) was injured. We’re just happy to have him home now.” The Palmers are in the process of medically retiring from the U.S. Marine Corps. When they retire, they return to Milton, Florida, where they both grew up.
At dinner, the wish team planned the presentation of the wish for LCPL Palmer. Becky was blown away by the specifics of the wish, and to make sure she kept the wish a surprise, she informed LCPL Palmer that a veteran’s group would be coming by the house the next day to thank him for his service. Little did he know that the ‘veteran’s group’ was actually W4OH, and they (the Palmer family) were the central focus of Operation Tar Heel.
The next morning, Orrick and Wells raced around town picking up various items for the Palmer wish. They stopped at Atlantic City furniture to purchase a new master bedroom set, living room set, and the highlight, a race car bed for Cameron. Atlantic City Furniture kindly donated several pieces of furniture to assist in granting the Palmer wish, as well. After getting the furniture, Wells and Orrick picked up a brand new washer and dryer, as well as other household items. They deployed to the staging point to meet up with the remainder of the wish team. Wells and Orrick linked up with Raye, Fowler, McCall, Dillard, Waters, Stroud, and two Marines who knew LCPL Palmer well. GSGT Jeremy Williamson, Palmer’s Platoon Commander, and CPT Antony Adrious, would not have missed this for the world. Both Marines were also instrumental in executing this wish for LCPL Palmer. They spoke very highly of LCPL Palmer as a person, and as a Marine. They explained how difficult it is to reintegrate into society after undergoing such a traumatic injury. They also talked about how important this wish would be to the Palmer family for years to come.
“Operation Tar Heel was planned with the same level of preparation utilized for a complex military operation, because we’re here to grant a lot of wishes in a short period of time, and we take this very seriously,” said Erick Orrick, W4OH board member. Once the entire team had been assembled, Wells gave a final mission briefing and everyone headed to their vehicles. Sonya Dilliard led the 8-vehicle convoy, as the wish team moved toward their objective, the Palmer house. After a 30 minute drive, Sonya signaled that the convoy was one mile from the Palmer house. The entire convoy staged and waited on the side of the road. Wells and Dilliard drove forward and approached the Palmer household. LCPL Palmer was outside in front of their home playing with Cameron, their three year old son. He saw us approaching and immediately gave Wells a look of suspicion. Dillard introduced Wells, and Wells explained W4OH, thanked him for his service and sacrifice, and mentioned that there were a few other people that cared about him and wanted to say hello. At that point, the convoy began pulling into the Palmer’s driveway. The Remax truck, driven by Orrick, pulled in last and stopped in front of the Palmer house. Orrick escorted Palmer to the truck, and together they opened it up. The entire truck was stuffed floor to ceiling with new furniture and other items for their house.
LCPL Palmer was a bit overwhelmed by everything, but he just kept talking about how much this meant to him. The Palmer family climbed into the truck and surveyed their new belongings. Cameron seemed to be the most excited once he realized the race car bed was his. Over the next 2 hours, the team assembled the furniture, helped the Palmers clean their home, installed the washer and dryer, and spent time with the family. What an amazing family….humble, selfless, appreciative, courageous…just a few words to describe the Palmer’s.
After such a phenomenal wish, the wish team needed a break, right? Absolutely not…on to the next wishes!! Upon leaving the Palmer’s residence, the wish team travelled at a high rate of speed to the Camp Lejeune Fisher House. At the Fisher House, Josie Callahan, manager of the house, gave the wish team a thorough tour of the house. This particular Fisher House was the first one built on a Marine Corps installation, and is the newest Fisher House in existence. Following her tour, we presented Josie with gifts for the 6 families that were currently staying at the Fisher House. Those gifts ranged from basic necessities such as pens, paper, and bottled water to fun things like toys for the children, board games, and Xbox games. After visiting for a while at the Fisher House, we walked across the street to the wounded warrior barracks, where Major Greenberg greeted us and gave us a tour. Collin and the wish team mingled with the wounded troops for a while, then hopped back into our vehicles. No rest for the weary…one more Wal Mart store to visit!
We drove to Wal Mart store # 3864. Immediately the store manager, Terry, greeted us and pulled me aside. He presented W4OH with an envelope full of cash…$1,046 to be exact. Terry and his employees hosted a bake sale the week prior to our visit, and he wanted the money they raised to go directly to the Palmer family. I was overwhelmed by the employees of store #3864. They were so supportive of our military, and throughout the store, you can see all of the small things they do to cater to our heroes. For example, they placed special parking space markers in the parking lot for wounded Marines. Just an unbelievable group of people.
Well, after 72 hours of running crazy and granting lots of wishes, Operation Tar Heel was complete. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! So many people came together and worked as a team to make this happen. This wish is a perfect example of how much can be accomplished when people set their mind to helping others. With an ear to ear grin Wells summed it all up, “In the last 3 days we granted 11 wishes, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. With so many kind people in this country, and so many military members in need, we’re going to keep pushing until we’ve granted one wish for every deserving member of our military!”