03 July 2008
This week, the AT&T National golf tournament will have somespecially invited guests, members of the U.S. Military. Tournament hostTiger Woods has made 30,000 tickets available to the military and theirfamilies. As VOA's David Byrd reports, the tickets are only part ofthe tournament host's way of saying "thank you."
Tiger Woodssaid when this tournament started in 2007 that he wanted part of it tohonor the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces. The worldnumber one golfer's late father Earl Woods was a Green Beret inVietnam. Tiger even gets his name from one of his father's militarybuddies.
As part of his way of thanking the military - andhonoring his father - Tiger's Foundation is committed to working withthe America Supports You program, a Department of Defense organizationwhich supports active duty military and their families.
At theAT&T National tournament, the flags of the service branches flyabove the first tee. That's also where Marine Corporal Angel Cuevas ofLos Angeles, California, served as one of the honorary starters.
"Welcome to the AT&T National. This is the 1:40 start time. First on the tee: from Tokyo, Japan, Shigeki Maruyama."
CorporalCuevas serves with the Pentagon tour program. He says that Tiger Woodsmaking free passes available helps encourage those who serve in theU.S. military. "I think it's a wonderful thing. It really is. It reallyshows support towards the military. And that really shows that he'sopen to the entire military family who are welcomed to this. And Ibelieve there are a couple of Wounded Warriors out here, also, which isa great thing because they have like three or four deployments undertheir belt. And for them to come out here and experience such andenvironment is a wonderful thing," he said.
As Corporal Cuevasmentioned, several members of the Wounded Warriors program are alsohere. The program focuses on helping those with traumatic battleinjuries - including amputated limbs, brain injuries, burns, blastinjuries and bullet wounds.
Members of the group here this weekall wear bright red shirts with the organization's logo - a soldiercarrying a wounded comrade - stitched in white on the left side.
Outsidetheir hospitality tent, Jeff Hansen of Scio, Oregon - apicture-postcard community of fewer than 700 people - stands with hisgirlfriend. A tall, thin young man, Jeff's left leg is missing and hasbeen replaced with a high-tech prosthesis. His right leg still bearsred and purple scars from where he was wounded in Iraq by an improvisedexplosive device or IED. He is pale, and soft spoken and reluctant totalk much about his injury.
Hansen says that he didn't playgolf, but he was a fan. He is learning the game through the SaluteMilitary Golf Association which works with Walter Reed Army Medicalhospital. And he appreciates Tiger Woods making the tickets available.
"Itis certainly generous of him. It gives us an opportunity to get out anddo something that we have never done before. Uh, actually I am learningthrough the SMGA - Salute Military Golfer's Association," he said.
AnotherWounded Warrior is Chris Burrell of Goldsboro, NorthCarolina. He lost one of his legs to an EFP - an especially deadlyform of IED - just before Christmas of last year in Southern Baghdad.He says being at the tournament is something special.
"Well hereat this tournament most of us are really avid golfers. We usually golftwo or three times a week, or if we are not playing 18 holes we are atthe driving range. And you know we are all great friends here, justenjoying the time being out of the hospital, just fellowship, justenjoying the moment," he said.
Burrell, a cherub-faced man withbrilliant green eyes, has a baby daughter with his girlfriend back inNorth Carolina. He plans to go back to his home base at Fort Bragg tocontinue rehabilitation. Burrell says attending this tournament andworking with Wounded Warriors are part of his recovery. He adds that hehopes this week helps people understand the long process combatveterans go through to - in his words - "just feel like a normalperson."