Four servicemen who attended a benefit concert for ThanksUSA at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on Nov. 9, 2009, have different home states, but what they all have in common is they have been undergoing treatment at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Colonel James G. Hay, Private First Class Michael Cunningham, Sergeant Ryan Lohss and Specialist Jason Poyneer were flown to the event by the Veterans Airlift Command (VAC), a not-for-profit organization providing free air travel to wounded veterans and their families.
Coble Trench Safety, based in Greensboro, N.C., was one of the travel sponsors for the concert. This was the sixth trip the company has made for the VAC Wounded Warrior program. All costs associated with these flights are covered by aircraft owners in the VAC’s national network, and while the Command is currently concentrating on those who served or still serve in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, it hopes to eventually expand flights to the veterans of other wars.
“Coble Trench Safety employees, Debby Coble, and myself were thrilled to assist these wounded warriors for the Veterans Airlift Command ThanksUSA trip to Nashville, Tenn., to raise scholarship funds for our troops’ families,” company President Tom Coble said. “We were truly honored to be of service to these fine soldiers and amazed at the caliber of each individual. Each soldier was very positive and upbeat about his future, plus several were planning to reenlist into the military.”
Hay was wounded several months ago during his second tour in Iraq, having been assigned to the Corp headquarters MNCI (Multi National Corp Iraq) as director of Contracting Oversight.
“I had been at Walter Reed Army Medical Center since the 7th of June recovering. This trip was the first opportunity for me to get out of the area and it was a blessing,” Hay said. “I leave Walter Reed in early December to report to a Warrior Transition Battalion in Rock Island, Ill., and then will return home to Minneapolis and finish my treatment at the Veterans Administration hospital in Minneapolis. The Army calls this Warrior home-based care, allowing me to spend the nights and weekend with my wife and two teenage kids, both going to school.”
Those undergoing long-term medical treatment often experience boredom, especially once they become ambulatory. Hay touched upon this aspect of recovery when he noted in particular that being transported to the concert allowed him and the younger troops an opportunity to get away from the everyday tedium of life as a hospital patient.
Walter Reed Army Medical Center describes the Warrior Transition program as promoting either a timely return to the military or a transition to civilian status by providing care and case management to those who have suffered wounds in ongoing conflicts.
“On the trip down, Tom let me sit up in the co-pilot’s place, as I at one time pursued my license to fly. This was great of him,” Hay recalled. “On the way back Specialist Poyneer became Tom’s co-pilot. He was thrilled to death to sit up front.”
Poyneer, a native of New York state, was assigned to A Company 427 BSB of the 27th brigade from that state.
“I deployed to Afghanistan on January 17th ’08 and then got injured on August 4th ’08,” he said. “I have been here at Walter Reed since November ’08 and stayed here for recovery for 13 months.”
Poyneer went on to observe it is “always great to get out of Walter Reed and actually do something fun,” mentioning in particular his flight back to Washington sitting in the copilot’s seat. He also expressed appreciation to all those involved in the event.
“I think that ThanksUsa is a amazing organization that helps so many soldiers and their families out and doesn’t ask for anything in return,” he said. “I would like to thank them for allowing us to come down and watch the show. I would also like to thank Loews Hotel for donating the beautiful rooms for us and Tom Coble and his wife for their generosity.”
Cunningham is from Massachusetts. He is fairly new to the military although his family has a long military tradition.
“I joined late, signing my first contract at 33 years old and going in as airborne infantry,” he said. “I was the crazy old man of the company, nicknamed grandpa, and the oldest in my company serving out in southeast Afghanistan, where I suffered injuries to the left side of my face and neck from a mortar round while I was trying to carry a fellow soldier with my sergeant to a medic.
“I have a grandfather who served in the navy in the Pacific during WWII, a great-grandfather who served as a captain during WWI and a great-uncle who served during WWII and the Korean War. He was in the infantry and escaped from the North Koreans, during which time he lost his toes on his right foot due to frostbite. He used to show us every morning during breakfast while putting on his shoes to go to work,” he went on. “The latest I know is he’s about 80 years old and serving as a lieutenant commander for the Coast Guard out in California, chasing drug smugglers from Mexico. Oh yeah, and in between he served as L.A. County sheriff for a little while.”
Cunningham described the travel arrangements for the four men as “top notch from beginning to end.
“Tom Coble and his son picked up three soldiers and myself personally from Walter Reed to meet their co-workers, then off to the airport. The flight back and forth was fantastic since we got to go in Tom’s personal plane, which he flew himself,” he recalled. “After checking into a fabulous hotel we enjoyed a nice dinner party before the concert. I do want to express my deepest thanks to the Cobles and everyone else that sacrifices some time to give back to the soldiers. Always know that the smallest bit makes the world of difference to every soldier and every one of their families.”
Lohss, a Pennsylvania resident, also comes from a family that has served in the United States military for generations. He plans to continue out the final three years on his contract, and then make a decision on whether or not to stay in for retirement, as he will have served 12 years.
He described Coble as a kind man who took all the time in the world to show his passengers his business and private jet and to familiarize them with various aspects of a pilot’s life, which he would never have been introduced to otherwise.
“Upon arrival in Nashville the staff of the Loew’s Hotel was extremely kind and generous with us being there. Meeting Mr. David Allen, the man that produced the event, was a wonderful experience. He said the VIP party we attended was all for us soldiers,” Lohss added.
Billed as An Evening Celebrating Our Nation’s Military Families, the all-star program was headlined by Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Jim Lauderdale, and the Steeldrivers, and also featured a surprise appearance by Ricky Skaggs.
Hay described the concert as “wonderful,” adding that “the standing ovation the other soldiers and I were given was heart warming.”
Lohss concurred, saying it meant a lot that so many individuals and families had gone out of their way to make the veterans’ week celebration “as perfect as it could get.”
“Receiving a standing ovation at the beginning of the concert brought tears to our eyes. It was overwhelming to see how much some people give to those that have served overseas,” he went on. “If I hadn’t gone I may never have seen the generosity of these wonderful people. The thanks we gave to them was quickly returned by all the people that would stop us to say ’no, thank you for all that you have done and continue to do.’”
Coble Trench Safety’s president Tom Coble intends to make further flights for the Veterans Airlift Command, and stressed he and his employees look forward to additional opportunities to show their support for the troops.
“This is a small way that we can say ’thank you’ to our troops and show our support,” he said. “Our nation is truly blessed because of the sacrifices of our brave men and women in the armed forces.”
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