Veterans program to honor wounded warriors founder
Monday, October 02, 2006
By Benjamin Schulz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania will honor returning soldiers at the 17th annual Partners in Leadership Gala on Thursday at the CarnegieMusic Hall, Oakland. Former Steelers running back Rocky Bleier is serving as honorary chairman and will address the audience about the VLP's work.
The program's President's Award will be presented to Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell, 41, of Jacksonville, N.C., "for his efforts to help wounded warriors," said Paul Amato of Squirrel Hill, president of the VLP board of directors.
Lt. Col. Maxwell established the wounded warrior barracks at CampLejeune, in eastern North Carolina, where injured soldiers can recover together. The facility is the first of its kind in the United States.
Mr. Amato, a lieutenant colonel with the Marine Reserve, chose Lt. Col. Maxwell as the award recipient. The two men became friends while they served in Iraq with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in 2004.
"Since Tim has done so much to help wounded warriors and veterans of the war on terror, he was a perfect choice for the award," said Mr. Amato.
Lt. Col. Maxwell, who was severely injured on Oct. 7, 2004, during a mortar attack on CampKalsu south of Baghdad, said he would accept the award on behalf of all wounded soldiers.
During that attack, two shell splinters penetrated the left side of his head, leaving him unable to speak for a while.
Following weeks of rehabilitation, he returned to his Jacksonville, N.C,, home on Thanksgiving 2004. He has not fully recovered.
"My brain is still sloppy at times," he said. Being with his wife and his two children helped him improve, but soon he missed activity and comradeship.
"Loneliness is awful. I asked myself: 'What now? I can't just sit around doing nothing,' " he said.
He talked to a psychologist, who brought up the idea of going to work, visiting wounded soldiers in hospitals and returning to his old unit at CampLejeune.
"That's when the concept of the wounded warrior barracks developed, as a place to stay together," he said. "You can't stay home forever."
In the spring of 2005, Lt. Col. Maxwell proposed his idea to Lt. Gen. James Amos, who supported it. By June, six men had moved into the facility.
"It kept growing and growing," said Lt. Col. Maxwell, who is the facility's officer in charge.
The barracks, which now houses 48 people, has been renamed Maxwell Hall to honor Lt. Col. Maxwell's efforts. Although it is not a medical facility, it helps the wounded with their recovery.
"It's good to have a task. We have to get trained for new jobs, and we help other guys with the paperwork," Lt. Col. Maxwell said.
"The guys learn a lot about life in the barracks and make up their mind about their future."
He feels like it is his task to comfort wounded soldiers and their families in situations where injuries seem to shatter their whole future.
"My strength and mission in life is that I give people hope," he said.
Besides the President's Award for Lt. Col. Maxwell, two others are to be presented at the gala on Thursday. The 4th Marine Logistics Group, Marine Forces Reserve, will accept the Veteran of the Year Award for all servicemen and women of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Home Depot will receive the John Heinz Community Advocate Award for the company's Operation Career Front program, which assists current and former members of the military looking for work.
Tickets for the gala, which will start at 5:30 p.m., are $150 and can be purchased as late as Wednesday at the VLP's Pittsburgh office. Call 412-481-8200.