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Injured veteran receives free home at The Greenbrier

By By Jack Suntrup
Staff writer
CHRIS DORST | Saturday Gazette-Mail
West Virginia National Guardsmen James Hotaling (left) and Zack Hudnall salute the flag after returning the flagstick to the 18th hole following a group of golfers finishing their round in The Greenbrier Classic Friday. A U.S. flag is attached to the flagstick of the 18th hole each Fourth of July during The Greenbrier Classic in honor of the holiday.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Three years ago, walking wasn’t a big deal for Sgt. Ryan Long. Everyday tasks were done pain-free, without stress.

Things are different now. In March 2012, Long was driving in Afghanistan when an IED detonated, mangling his legs. Though he can walk now, recovering wasn’t easy. His right leg was amputated in December 2012. Infections came and went.

“Nothing ever goes as planned,” he said. “It was frustrating.”

Long was one of many veterans and active-duty military members present at The Greenbrier Classic Friday on behalf of various military organizations.

Before the Maroon 5 concert that evening, representatives with the Military Warriors Support Foundation took one burden off Long and his wife Vanessa’s shoulders: finding a home.

With corporate partners, including the PGA’s Birdies for the Brave, the Support Foundation has given 593 mortgage-free homes to veterans since 2007.

“It means a lot to me and my family to be able to transition from military life, especially being injured and not knowing what’s next to going to a home burden-free,” Long said.

The founder of the organization, retired Lt. Gen. Leroy Sisco, was at The Greenbrier Friday with Ryan and Vanessa Long and their three kids.

“You have a longing to say thank you to your heroes and I started out just wanting to do outside activities and stuff like that, but I ended up doing much more,” Sisco said. “Then I had an idea about giving a home away.”

Things took off from there. Sisco attributes a lot of the foundation’s success to required financial mentoring that awardees must go through.

“We teach them how to own a home, how to take care of a home, and we have rules,” he said. “They can’t spend a certain amount of money without our approval and we get to look at all their credit cards and everything.”

Sisco’s group wasn’t the only military organization at The Greenbrier on the Fourth of July.

Representatives with the West Virginia National Guard came in uniform. After the golfers finished the 18th hole, guard members would put the American flag back in the hole and salute.

They stood on the green the entire day.

“So many people come up and just say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ ” said Lt. Col. Todd Harrell with the West Virginia National Guard. ”The golfers would just stop in their tracks to thank them.”

Seventy-three motorcycles rumbled from Beckley to Lewisburg, escorting a group of 19 veterans and active-duty military personnel as part of a five-day tour of West Virginia.

Woody Aurentz organized the event called Gathering of Mountain Eagles. The group has spent the last few days whitewater rafting and zip-lining. On Friday, they went to The Greenbrier and then to the Maroon 5 concert.

“We try to challenge them, get them out of the hospital and do adventure activities,” Aurentz said. “The second thing we do is thank them.”

As a combat medic in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2003, Charles Stewart was shot in the right hand at a roadside checkpoint. After being shot, he helped rescue seven of his comrades from the gunfire. Two others died in the fight.

In December 2003, after his hand healed, an IED detonated by Stewart’s vehicle.

He was knocked unconscious, his jaw was broken, and his back mangled. A firefight ensued, but he got to safety.

His wife, Jennifer, had only good things to say about the trip.

“They’ve challenged us, not only as individuals, but as a couple,” she said.

“They’ve treated us with the utmost respect. They’ve thanked us. They went out of their way to make sure all the accommodations were made.”

Charles Stewart said he’s often thanked for his service. He said it’s hard to describe what it’s like to be thanked so much. After all, he was just doing what the Army paid him to do.

“It’s kind of hard to explain,” Stewart said. “We didn’t do that for people to say thank you, or to get stuff. For us, it’s real hard. I know for me it’s real hard to sit there and do that, but I know a lot of these people mean it when they thank us.”

“It’s humbling,” Jennifer Stewart said.

Reach Jack Suntrup at jack.suntrup@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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