You may find them somewhere out in the vast city of Louisville, or maybe down the country lanes of Jackson County. They may walk along the shores of Lake Barkley, or maybe they stand on a Frankfort sidewalk. But no matter where the roads of Kentucky take you, there will always be a wounded hero just around the next bend. He may not be fresh off duty. She may not have been behind an ambulance’s wheel for decades. Yet the soldiers, state troopers, police officers, firefighters and EMTs back home still bear the pain from their time of service. And whether physical, mental or emotional, the scars from war zones, burning buildings and rescue attempts don’t fade into smiles at the moment of discharge. Those who have fought to keep our homes safe and secure are the very ones who, after the work is done, find they’ve lost their own safety and security in the process.
“Our veterans, they signed a blank check to Uncle Sam, and that’s all the way up to and including giving their lives for this country,” says Chuck Reed. For him, service didn’t end when his time in the Marine Corps, and later the Kentucky State Police, came to a close. While continuing as a member of the Army National Guard, he came to realize he could use his history to bless Kentucky’s veterans. Service wasn’t just a sacrifice he could make for the people of America – it was a commitment he could make to his fellow heroes. “Back in 2005 we had a lot of units in Kentucky that were deployed,” he says. “We had a lot of national guardsmen coming home in just really bad shape. These men and women started coming home, and myself and some others decided that, ‘Hey, someone needs to do something here to try and help these guys out.’”
Deciding to be that someone, Reed founded Kentucky Wounded Heroes (KWH), an organization that provides veterans and, beginning in 2012, civil servants including police officers, firefighters and EMTs, the opportunity to participate in outings with individuals from similar backgrounds, all in a spirit of camaraderie built by a common passion and shared experience. Every participant once served in the name of freedom and security, and each was injured in the line of duty.
Yet planning and fulfilling the trips isn’t a job to do alone. With the help of contacts made during his years of service and a volunteer force comprised of veterans, civil service personnel, civilians, and hunting and fishing professionals, the trips became a reality. “We would try to take as many folks as we could afford,” Reed says. The adventures included fishing in Alaska and at Lake Erie, gator hunting in Florida, deer and pheasant hunting on local grounds, canoeing, attending sporting events, and much more. Though an outdoor excursion could seem simple, the healing that can come from spending time with men and women of similar backgrounds in the wonders of nature is a force Reed believes in, and a force he knew he could use to give a hero a smile.
In 2019 KWH invited Dan Wright, a veteran, to attend an Alaska fishing trip. Wright gladly accepted, and shortly after the trip he received another invitation – this time, to work with KWH. “They had an opening for treasurer in the organization and [Reed] thought that I would fill that position,” Wright says. He gladly accepted, and after taking up the post in November of the same year, continued to volunteer as treasurer. He also participates in organizing fundraisers for the group, including a golf outing at Lake Forest Country Club on August 29, where supporters can enjoy a breakfast and lunch, networking opportunities, and awards, all built around the fun of a golf scramble. Golfers of all ages, backgrounds and skill sets are welcome. “We need as many sponsors as we can find for all our events,” Wright says. “The more, the merrier.”
In addition to August’s golf scramble, supporters can look forward to the Wild Game Dinner in the winter. Another fundraising event, this dinner provides an opportunity for wounded heroes to share the game from the year’s outings, including bear, elk, pheasant, antelope and wild boar, among others. Not only does hunting help the heroes, but serving their catch through a shared meal with supporters also funds future trips. The beloved excursions are made possible when Kentuckians attend KWH fundraising events. “Everything that comes in goes to eating, housing and fuel for vehicles,” Reed emphasizes. Such an investment in our heroes is never wasted. The smallest donation could be the last dollar needed to pay for a trip that will change veterans’ lives, one smile at a time.
For Wright in particular, the Alaska trip of 2019 left the biggest impact. “Without this organization taking me I probably never would’ve gotten there,” Wright says. His situation is far from unusual. The KWH team works to make the impossible possible for every man or woman they work with. For the individual with paraplegia, KWH has provided the ability to go to hunting grounds in a specially made wheelchair that is safe for rough terrain. For the individual who is blind, the organization has given the same hunting opportunities, made possible with a sound-aided, rifle-aiming device. Because of KWH, heroes without sight can still enjoy the hunt. And despite every veteran coming from a different background and coming with a different injury, it’s guaranteed that KWH won’t stop until every hero has experienced the simple joys of nature and companionship all over again. “[They] come out of these events with an entirely different attitude,” Wright says. “[They come in] saying, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that,’ but because of these events they walk away thinking, ‘I can do this, and I can do that. It just takes a little bit more effort than what I remember from when I was a kid.’”
“When we have outside support for these veterans, we greatly appreciate it,” Wright continues. “But our appreciation is minor compared to the appreciation that the people that we try to help have because of this organization. They come away with smiles on their face, we come away with smiles on our face, and everybody goes to bed with a smile on their face that night.” That smile-making support doesn’t come only from the big checks of big groups. It can come from a few hours volunteering on a fishing boat, or a few dollars paid for a Wild Game Dinner. That support comes from each and every Kentuckian who values the freedom our soldiers and civil servants have stood up for, and because of that support, those soldiers and civil servants can start smiling again.
“There’s just a lot of good people in Kentucky, I’ll tell you that,” Reed says. “A lot that just want to give back. And that’s all we do here. We just give back.” And when it comes to giving back, the gift of a smile is the greatest Kentucky can offer.
For more information about Kentucky Wounded Heroes, as well as a list of upcoming trips, visit kentuckywoundedheroes.net, or give them a call at 502-235-4262.
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