Hilton Head Monthly: Wounded Warriors Feature

This story comes from the May 2014 edition of Hilton Head Monthly. 

Here’s the text …

Lowcountry Foundation for Wounded Heroes was created to support local wounded veterans

By Tim Wood

The mission was born out of compassion and camaraderie.

Six years ago, Master Sgt. Todd Nelson suffered catastrophic injuries when a roadside device blew up his vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan.

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Nelson’s parents, Jim and Wendy Miller, live in Hampton Hall in Bluffton. When neighbor Russ Spicer had a chance to meet Nelson four years ago, he did what comes natural to him — the former Army helicopter pilot mobilized his friends.

“It really struck me to find out that there was next to no local support for wounded veterans here,” Spicer said. “So we set out to make that happen.”

And thus the Lowcountry Foundation for Wounded Military Heroes was born. Its goal is to help heroes like Nelson as they battle the never-ending effects of war.

Nelson returned statewide to begin a grueling journey filled with 40-plus surgeries to reconstruct his face. Spicer’s friend Peter Doukas said meeting Nelson was a lifechanging moment.

“To meet him, there’s no way you walk away from that and not do something,” said the fellow Hampton Hall resident and former Marine Corps reservist. “We can not forget the folks that give us these freedoms.”

Fellow Hampton Hall residents felt the same and the ranks of volunteers grew rapidly. The group aligned itself with “Birdies for the Brave,” a charity supported by pro golfers Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson and run by former Navy SEAL Team 7 member Stephen Kupcha.

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Spicer and his crew organized a charity golf tournament three years ago. With 125 volunteers in tow, the group not only raised a good chunk of money, but made an impression on the community with their mission to keep every cent raised in the Lowcountry for our often forgotten heroes.

Ed Giannelli was one of the folks impacted by what he saw. The Berkeley Hall resident said getting to hear Nelson speak at the event was amazing.

“He looks at the crowd, says, ‘Lend me your ear’ and then takes off his prosthetic ear. From there, we were all just riveted,” he said. “To have that positive of an attitude through all the fight he’s been through, it’s incredibly inspiring.”

Giannelli was equally impressed with the organization behind the golf event.

“It was the finest run event I’d ever been part of,” said the former printing business owner from Long Island. “I saw it and the cause and I had to be part of it.” Giannelli isn’t a veteran, but had a cousin die in Vietnam and son-in-law who has been through two deployments. He worked tirelessly to recruit fellow Berkeley Hall members to work on the Foundation events — last year, he doubled both the amount of volunteers (56) and the amount of donations to $12,000 alone from the Berkeley donors.

“If we had one of Ed in every local community, we’d take off even more than we already have,” Doukas said. “It’s amazing to see so many folks come together for such a meaningful cause.”

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The organization has raised over $190,000 over the last three years and has worked with Birdies for the Brave (B4B) to disburse the funds solely to area recipients. In conjunction with B4B and the Military Warrior Support Foundation (MWSF), the group donated mortgage-free homes to two military families, one in Santee and one just south of Savannah.

The foundation has also donated a motorized wheelchair to a wounded soldier and a solo-rider golf cart, which lets disabled golfers swing at the ball while sitting in the cart, to the Legends Golf Course at Parris Island.

And during each year’s tourney, the students at the Professional Golfers Career College have provided one-on-one clinics to 12-18 wounded Purple Heart recipients from Fort Stewart, the Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort and Parris Island.

So far, donations have been channeled to three charities to date, the MWSF, Operation Homefront and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

Two new charities, K9s for Warriors and the Troops First Foundation, will benefit from this year’s golf tourney.

This year marked an expansion of the volunteer group’s efforts. The foundation worked with John Kilmer Fine Interiors and builder John Moleski to stage a showcase home in Hampton Hall. The home was open for viewing in February and March, with all proceeds from admission going to the Foundation.

The relationship between Kilmer and the Foundation began with Doukas’ wife (Lynn) discussing the group with Kilmer 18 months ago. “The more I heard, the more I wanted to be involved. In October, we ran an in-store event that raised $5,000,” Kilmer said. “With The Wounded Heroes Golf Classic is set for May 19 at Hampton Hall. the showcase home, we wanted to take that commitment a step further.”

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Last year’s golf tourney alone raised $95,000, including a $10,000 check from an anonymous donor.

Spicer said the group fully intends to break records with the May 19 Wounded Heroes Golf Classic at Hampton Hall. The entry fee is $800 per foursome. If you want to play or run a business that would like to sponsor the event, call 843-815-6339.

And if you’re not a golfer but want to get involved, the foundation has a new website, http://www.woundedmilitaryheroes.org, thanks to the efforts of USCB students under the direction of Marine veteran and teacher Lee Fair. The site accepts PayPal donations of any size.

“We’re working so hard to honor those who allow us this lifestyle,” Spicer said. “To see the community embrace this means so much. These heroes, their battle never ends. Todd was the impetus here, but there’s hundreds of thousands like him. So many people want to help. This is just steering them on how to make that impact.”

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