Golf tournament brings veterans together before Memorial Day

Sunday, May 30, 2010
The 2nd annual US Wounded Soldier Foundation Golf Tournament brought staff sergeant Heath Calhoun to the Cape Girardeau Country Club on Friday, May 28, 2010. After Calhoun's convoy was attacked by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq, he lost both of his legs from the knee down. Today, six years after the attack, Calhoun is not just walking on prosthetic legs, but is running, skiing, golfing and more. (Bailey Reutzel)

Wounded Soldier Foundation Golf Tournament brought military veteran Heath Calhoun to Cape Girardeau as the keynote speaker Friday.

Calhoun is a spokesman for the Wounded Warrior Project and helped get the Wounded Warrior Bill, which allows payments of $25,000 to $100,000 to service members who suffer life-altering injuries while serving, passed through Congress in 2005. He talked to the volunteers and the 32 four-person golf teams about his experiences as an injured veteran and his rehabilitation.

Calhoun was the squad leader of the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq when his convoy was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. The attack led to the amputation of both Calhoun's legs from the knee down. Calhoun remained active, though, learning how to water and snow ski and participating in the Soldier Ride, biking from New York to California. After struggling for years with his "arch nemesis," the wheelchair and uncomfortable prosthesis, Calhoun went to Hanger Prosthetics. He was introduced to "stubbies," or foreshortened prostheses, which are customized to each individual. He pushed himself through fall after fall on custom protheses and eventually learned not only how to walk again but also how to run.

Local war veterans also came to listen to Calhoun's story and play in the golf scramble, including Sgt. 1st class Steven Rhodes from Jackson, who was injured serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Rhodes said Calhoun has faced his adversity with a positive attitude. "Anyone that sits and listens to him and doesn't think that's emotional has no nerves. We all know we're playing for him and what he stands for."

"He didn't give up or quit, he just dealt with what life gave him," said Spc. Joey Beard of the 1137th MP company of the Missouri Army National Guard. Calhoun's presentation "was phenomenal; very inspirational and just awesome," Beard said.

The golf tournament was organized by Premier Rehab to raise money for the U.S. Wounded Soldier Foundation. The not-for-profit foundation was started in 2003 by Teresa Goforth, international purser flight attendant for American Airlines. While transporting troops, she was inspired by what she saw in Germany at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Goforth started asking people to donate supplies she could give to the hospital. After becoming a not-for-profit, American Airlines gave her priority shipment free of charge.

"We've transported more than $1 million worth of goods and services every year ... since about two years ago," Goforth said.

"They work really hard to better the lives of soldiers and I know firsthand how much of a difference they make," said Robert Wake, who retired from the military in January and is now the Red Cross' lead serviceman for the armed forces.

"I think not-for-profit organizations are a huge benefit to service members. They make rehabilitation possible," Calhoun said.

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