May 19th, 2007 04:25 EST
DoD and PGA Launch Military Golf Program
The Defense Department’s America Supports You program and its new partner, the Professional Golfers Association of America, teed off the Military Golf Program today at the Army Navy Country Club here.
The program, co-sponsored by Disabled Sports USA, is a nationwide initiative to encourage wounded servicemembers to participate in golf as a rehabilitative and recreational pursuit. In conjunction with the program’s announcement, four wounded veterans from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., practiced on the driving range here under the tutelage of seven PGA professionals.
“The nation has called upon our young men and women to serve, and we ask a lot of them and they give a lot that we just can’t give back,” Navy Rear Adm. Frank Thorp IV, deputy assistant secretary of defense for joint communication, told the roughly 50-member audience.
“What’s different about serving in a uniform in the United States military than working for many other noble organizations or corporations around the country, is the fact that Americans come together, like you all have today, to recognize those of us who serve,” he said. “That makes us feel very proud to serve. ... It’s not just words; it’s not just platitudes; it’s actual, tangible efforts.
“On behalf of every single member of the United States military, I give you a whole-hearted ‘thank you’ and my personal appreciation,” Thorp added.
PGA of America is coordinating teams of PGA professionals who will instruct wounded warriors at sites near the nation’s three primary military hospitals: Walter Reed; Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio; and Naval Medical Center San Diego.
“It’s great when organizations like PGA of America join the America Supports You team and make a long-term, tangible commitment to our men and women in the military across the country,” said America Supports You creator Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communications and public liaison.
PGA of America and Disabled Sports USA are among the more than 250 businesses and organizations nationwide that participate in the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, which recognizes citizens’ support for military men and women and communicates that support to members of the U.S. armed forces here and abroad.
“It goes way beyond the PGA of America, way beyond this game of golf and the other programs, to have the privilege of being here today with all of you and introduce this exciting program that supports the troops who stand in harm’s way to give all of us the freedom that we enjoy here in America,” said Brian Whitcomb, president of PGA of America.
Whitcomb recognized the seven PGA professionals on hand, and thanked servicemembers on behalf of all 28,000 PGA golf professionals.
Kirk M. Bauer, executive director of Disabled Sports USA, accepted a plaque from Whitcomb on behalf of PGA of America for his outstanding efforts with wounded war veterans. Bauer then introduced retired Army Sgt. Sean Lewis, Army Staff Sgt. Joe Bowser, retired Army Sgt. Orlando Gill and Army Sgt. 1st Class David Cook -- the four wounded veterans in the audience.
“When I visit these men and women in the hospital, they’re down,” said Bauer, who lost his leg in Vietnam when a grenade detonated nearby and now stands on a prosthetic. “They’ve got tubes coming out of them; they’ve got pins in them; they’re literally fighting for their lives, and these are young men and women who have literally been taught to conquer cities.
“It’s a pretty devastating prospect,” he said. “And what they need at that point in time is something to hold onto, to let them know that they can believe in themselves again, can be active again and that they can lead an active life. Sports and golf in particular is one of those tools to do that.”
Lewis said he was uninterested in golf before suffering an injury in Iraq.
“I always thought golf was stupid,” said Lewis, whose right leg was amputated after a 155 mm mortar landed about three feet from him in Baqubah, Iraq.
While recovering at Walter Reed, Lewis met a mentor, Billy Bartlett, who Lewis affectionately calls “Pop.” After many entreaties, Lewis finally acquiesced to Pop, agreeing to join him one day on the links. “So because of him annoying me into finally getting out there on the driving range, now I love it,” Lewis said.
“It’s too easy for someone to sit there on the couch and die inside and give up on everything,” Lewis said about his decision to play golf, which he does nearly every day. “I’m young. I have way too much time to do nothing but just sit there, … I ski, I fish, I snowboard, I do everything; just because I’m missing a leg doesn’t mean I’m a different person.”
Lewis hasn’t let his disability change his approach to parenting either. Following the ceremony, Lewis said he was embarking on a father-son camping trip.
“With us it’s a challenge not only to walk, … but it’s a challenge to try and beat the two-legged guys, and I love it,” said Army Staff Sgt. Joe Bowser, who lost his leg when a 122 mm mortar struck near him on Camp Anaconda in Baghdad.
“I have (an able-bodied) friend in Cincinnati; I played on his golf course and I birdied the seventh hole,” Bowser said. “The guy is almost a pro, and I rub it in as much as possible.”
Judy Alvarez, PGA and Ladies PGA professional, told the audience she was deeply honored when PGA of America invited her to train wounded servicemembers participating in the Military Golf Program. Working with disabled golfers taught Alvarez that in addition to being good exercise, golf is mentally and emotionally therapeutic.
“I challenge you when you leave here today not to look at what their disability is, but what their abilities are and how they can do something,” she said.
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service