On this Veterans’ Day, I want to thank all of those who served. I honor your bravery, whether you served in peace time or conflict. I honor your call to give yourself to our country. I honor your families who shared you with us. I know many of you have memories that haunt you. And I know that no amount of gratitude will act as a salve for those wounds. But I want to acknowledge that aspect of your service and send you my wish for peace in your heart and mind.
Those wounds are the ones we can’t see. But many of our veterans also have very real, visible wounds as well. Many of our returning service men and women come back with injuries that reduce their physical capacity on every level. The Wounded Warrior Project has done a fantastic job of raising awareness and funds for these heroes. Unfortunately, TWWP does have its limits, and other private and non-profit organizations try to fill in those gaps.
Some of those gaps seem so simple and obvious, but they can cause big problems when not filled. For example, using a coat to stay warm in the winter is something that most of us take for granted. Sometimes we sprain our wrist, or break our arm, or have shoulder surgery, and our temporary inconvenience makes us appreciate being able to get each arm into our warm jacket.
However, there are those who deal with this every day, all winter, every winter, for the rest of their lives. There are wounded service men and women who have varying degrees of disability after their service. Some of these heroes are among those who face this coat frustration.
Shannon Allen from Loganville, GA, is a very dear friend of mine and has personal experience with this difficulty. Her husband, retired MSG Mark C. Allen, was injured in Afghanistan in 2009 by a gunshot wound to the head. His injuries resulted in complete loss of mobility, leaving him unable to even speak or care for himself in any way. With his limited mobility, putting a coat on him is kind of like putting a coat on a Barbie doll. His arms stay bent at about a 90 degree angle, and he has limited range of motion in his shoulders. So when Shannon tries to have a family outing, keeping Mark warm is a challenge. Last year on just such an outing the day after Thanksgiving, the weather turned unexpectedly cold as the afternoon progressed.
Shannon recalls, “In order to keep Mark warm, he had my oh-so-manly red wool peacoat draped across his lap, his friend’s leather coat draped backward over his chest and a golf towel (yes, a golf towel) fashioned as a scarf. It was absolutely ridiculous. Look, I’m not above wearing pajama pants to Walmart at 8:00am, but even I wouldn’t want to be out and about looking like he did.”
And beyond looking piecemeal, his array of garments was also ineffective. Mark was just getting too cold. So his nurse had to take him home. “He missed the lights, the Christmas parade, the 4D movie, the Christmas musical and above all, quality time with his friends and family. He missed the joy on his children’s faces. All because he lacked something as simple as a coat to keep him warm.”
I know Shannon well. I feel honored to be counted as one of her dear friends. Her family and friends are her reason. Absolutely nothing is more important to her than her family. I know that not having Mark there on that evening in Stone Mountain broke her heart. Just because she and Mark can’t go home and discuss the events of the day doesn’t mean his presence is any less crucial. Shannon is a fierce advocate for her people, her inner circle. And her husband is her epicenter, her heart, her person. So this event motivated her into action. And when Shannon is in action, she is an incredible force. When she exhibits her strength, which is daily, she is truly awe-inspiring. She scoured the internet for something better for Mark to wear. And she found it. Something perfect, actually.
There is a company called Koolway Sports that makes adaptive coats for those who are wheelchair bound. The coats have shortened backs to avoid bunching in the wheelchair. Also, the coats zipper from cuff, up the arms, and down the sides all the way to the waist to make maneuvering into and out of the coat a breeze. They custom make each coat to fit the measurements of each recipient. These custom, adaptive, heavy-duty coats come with an equally hefty price tag. But even at $500 a piece, Shannon knew they would be worth every penny.
Shannon shared her excitement with her Facebook friends and they did more than like her post. Several friends begged her to let them help give Mark that coat. After some persistent coaxing, Shannon agreed and started a GoFundMe account to help accept donations for the coat. The response was immediate and overwhelming. Her goal was $600 to cover a full length coat, tax, shipping, and a scarf. In just 24 hours, Shannon’s friends raised $1,860. That was enough to purchase 3 adaptive coats.
Shannon immediately thought of her Wounded Warrior family, other heroes in similar situations. She began reaching out to her friends. But the donations kept pouring in. Soon there was enough for a 4th coat. Shannon opened another GoFundMe account that was more general to raise money for other wounded service men and women. The donations kept coming. It was just in time for the holiday season. So many people want to give to a cause, but they are so frustrated with the system. Too many “charities” begin the slippery slope of filtering the raised funds in other directions besides the actual cause. With KBW3, they knew that everything was going straight to buying those coats. Their money was giving something useful to our wounded veterans. People gave every amount. $5 here, $50 there. A couple donors who had the means, each funded an entire coat themselves.
As the donations kept coming, Shannon recognized that this was much bigger than just her precious husband. As of October 2015, she has received donations to fully fund 33 of these amazing coats from Koolway Sports, and several more applications are being processed. She partnered with a friend’s Non Profit Organization, Birmingham Warrior Alliance Project. She named her cause with thoughts of her husband: Keeping Badass Wounded Warriors Warm, or KBW3 for short.
Now, as temperatures begin to drop once again, Shannon is gearing up to spread the word and share some coats with more of our Badass Wounded Warriors. As she shares on the KBW3 website:
Y’all. I don’t even know what to say. You are seriously THE BEST. You know me, you may not have seen me in years, but you know me. You don’t, however, know my friends, yet you still, without hesitation spent your hard earned money to help them out. I just don’t even know what you say to accurately convey my emotions.
My life is hard. I cry a lot. More than any of you know. I cry because I miss my husband, because my kids miss out on their dad, because my fellow wounded warrior wives are in pain, because I heard a song on the radio that made me think of him, or because I accidentally sprayed his cologne and the memories all came flooding back.
The last few days, however, I’ve been crying different tears. Happy tears. Humbled tears. Honored tears. Excited tears. Tears of joy.
These tears, these happy tears – the ones that don’t come nearly as often as the sad ones – these tears are because of you.
So, during this season when giving is on our minds, when we want to share, when we want to give blessings, if you are looking for a worthy cause, then consider KBW3. Shannon finds wounded veterans all over the country as candidates. She says there is no shortage of recipients. And if you find it in your heart to give and fund a coat, she will find a Badass Wounded Warrior to put it on.
If you would like to see some of the recipients of these special coats, like #KBW3 on Facebook or the website www.kbw3.org . You will also find a link to make donations. You can also check out the details of these coats at koolwaysports.com.