Jim Riggleman assists the Wounded Warrior program
A few months ago, a representative from the Wounded Warrior Project reached out to Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman about taping a public service announcement for the organization. Riggleman agreed under one condition: He wanted some of the wounded veterans to tape the PSA with him.
Today, Riggleman and four wounded veterans from the Wounded Warrior Project taped the ad in the Nationals dugout. The aim is to raise awareness for the program, which provides tangible support for the 37,000 severely wounded veterans who have returned from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The shoot took an hour. Riggleman read a script while standing with four wounded veterans. One of them was a female soldier from Fairfax - "because of my job, you get the story or the name," she said.
She had been in the Army for 22 months when she first went to Iraq as a combat medic. Two months into her time, her platoon came under small-arms fire. She hoisted a male soldier over her shoulder and carried him away from danger. As she sprinted, two discs in her back collapsed, her vertebrae smashed together. The next thing she remembers, she was in Texas, at a military hospital. She had broken her back.
Uncertainty gripped her. She had played basketball all her life, and being an athlete had become part of her identify. She needed a wheelchair. She wondered if she would walk again.
From her first day in Texas, Jason from the Wounded Warrior Project spoke with her every day, "sometimes about just nothing," she said. Civilian doctors and counselors helped her, too, but not like Jason.
"You don't have the same brotherhood, the same connection," she said. "It was the difference between crying all depressed every day and being encouraged."
In those first days after she returned home, the project helped her realize, "this isn't the end of life," she said. "It sounds cheesy, but it's a new beginning. And it really was." Today, she walks with a limp and plays basketball.
"I can't jump as high as I used to," she said.
Another of the soldiers was Ryan Lamke. He grew up in Bethesda and Fairfax. His deployment, with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines out Camp Lejune, to Fallujah coincided with the first season the Nationals played in Washington. His grandfather sent a Nationals cap, blue with the "DC" logo and a red brim.
Lamke had never seen the Nationals play, and he was a fan. He wore the hat on post every day, even in 130-degree heat. This afternoon, he wore his hat in the Nationals dugout and got it autographed by Riggleman.
Lamke became involved with the Wounded Warrior Project after returning home. He is the Coordinator of Warrior Outreach, and he works out of Walter Reed in Bethesda. He has helped hand out "transition bags" to wounded soldiers as soon as they land back in the country, and helped match up soldiers who suffered a similar injury for peer counseling.
"We help them achieve normalcy," Lamke said.
It is an undeniably great cause. This space is usually reserved for Nationals baseball, but the PSA shoot at Nationals Park offered a worthy diversion and a chance to promote awareness.
In that vein, it's also worth sharing information on another important cause the Nationals have become involved with. Every Sunday, the Nationals will give away tickets to military children and one of their friend as part of "Me and a Friend," a program designed to by the USO. The aim of the program is to help children with parents in the military make connections with their peers. They are trying to expand into sports teams and leagues, and the Nationals became the first organization to take part last Sunday.
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