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Ward Burton hosts event to help veterans cope with mental, physical challenges

It’s becoming a twice-a-year tradition, Ward Burton and the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation hosting an American Heroes event at the Cove in Halifax County.

The event, which features a day of friendly competition among the veterans at the shooting range, fish pond and archery range, is designed to help them cope with physical and mental challenges from serving their country in the War on Terror.

Marine Corporal veteran Kevin Hoffman, a Lynchburg native and Charlotte County resident, felt right at home at the Cove.

Hoffman was injured in Afghanistan in 2010 and has been at Walter Reed since then.

“This is my second event with Ward personally,” said Hoffman, who described the event as “incredible, a lot of fun.”

“Quite honestly I didn’t know I would be this close to home, or I would have bought my truck down here. It’s a lot of fun and really nice to be with people who are where I’m from, so it’s a lot like being home,” he added.

“People down here, especially Ward, he knows what it’s like to be a true Virginian. He’s just a genuine guy.  He’s here for us.  I knew that from the first time I met him.”

Brian Reekes, who has been to three American Heroes events, volunteered to help on the shooting range on Thursday.

“Just to give back to these guys is just an outstanding feeling,” said Reekes. “They’re true troopers and give their all for their country.”

Marine Corps Lance Corporal Mark Lang won the bow and archery competition in May but was finding the going a little tougher this time around.

“So far I’m not doing so well, but I could get lucky,” he laughed.

Lang, who was injured in a training accident in March 2011, said he cleared his schedule in order to attend the event when he heard about it three months ago.

Like many veterans at the event, he understands the sacrifices serving one’s country brings.

Morgan has spent close to 25 years in the Marine Corps, including active duty and reserve time and has served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A technical integrator with the Joint IED Defeat Organization, Morgan also participated in the event as a supervisor at the shooting range.

“It’s a win-win as far as I’m concerned,” he noted.

Jack Bolan, a Lunenburg County resident stationed at Ft. Pickett, returned home last December after a tour in Iraq.

“I think it’s more of a mental break than a physical break,” explained Bolan of the American Heroes event. It takes people from all over, all branches, nobody’s left out.”

The Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation is a primary partner in the Army Compatible Use Buffer Program at Ft. Pickett, and that relationship benefits both parties according to Major Paul Gravely of the Virginia Army National Guard.

The program’s purpose is establishment of buffer areas around Army installations, and the foundation lends its expertise in natural resources, cultural resources and land management to the program.

“What better program for Southside Virginia than the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation to support the installation,” said Gravely.

“I’ve participated in and helped him run these events for about four years,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun just to run them, and it definitely warms the heart. He definitely takes care of veterans, and it makes me feel real good to be a part of it.”

Personnel from MATES (Material Equipment Training Sites) at Ft. Pickett and Marine Corps veterans made the trip to the Cove for the day of relaxation and friendly competition capped off by a catered meal and awards presentations, Burton pointed out.

“It’s always a humbling experience to be around these guys who’ve given so much to our country and themselves and their families sacrificing so much,” he said.

“Just about every one of these guys have been deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. Actually, 10 of them are waiting to be deployed in late winter, and the other men and women joining us today are from the Marine Corps.

“Eight of them have been wounded and are doing therapy and awaiting operations and therapeutic help for their synthetic legs or arms.”

“Mixing the two together is really special.  They pick each other up,” added Burton.

“We’re trying to pick them up, and by the end of the day they’re picking us up. I feel very guilty having not served, and that’s one of the reasons I think more than anything the foundation started doing this.

“Also, my dear friend C. R. Sanders, who owned a large part of this property, is buried back there, and he’s a Purple Heart recipient from the Korean War and was a Marine as well.

“It’s a great thing to use the outdoors to show them thank you.”