Across the country, Americans are closely united in their appreciation of the brave men and women in the military serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Willing to put a tangible face on its gratitude, a local nonprofit, Sentinels of Freedom, has developed an action plan that helps severely wounded veterans returning from duty make the transition to civilian life.
"Our mission is to provide life-changing opportunities for men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who have suffered severe injuries and need the support of grateful communities to realize their goals and dreams," says the organization's web site. Sentinels of Freedom was founded by Tri-Valley resident Mike Conklin "initially to assist one soldier who had been severely injured in the Army from our community." Five years later, its program has touched 51 members of the military across the nation.
The Sentinels of Freedom vehicle is a four-year "life scholarship" that provides an extensive support network, or "winning framework," that accompanies the veteran from injury through to wellness.
"Returning wounded soldiers can get lost in the system because of the complexity of their injuries," says Tom Daggett, of Hacienda's BB&T-Tanner, who leads the Pleasanton Sentinels team. "This organization bands the local community together as an advocacy group for these soldiers. We get together to walk by their side and give them a helping hand - on everything from investment advice to education and employment to liaison with the VA."
Daggett is very familiar with the program through his team's relationship with Sentinel Jay Wilkerson. "Jay was the first traumatic brain injury patient to come into the Sentinel program," Daggett notes. He was wounded in Iraq, and although on the operating table within an hour of the explosion that struck his convoy, he spent two months in a coma and two years in the poly-trauma center in Palo Alto. A former Richmond resident, he wanted to stay in northern California but needed a support system to rebuild his life. That is where Daggett and his team stepped in, securing outside help and mentoring Jay by being in constant contact.
"I approached the City of Pleasanton, which saw this as a community obligation and rallied around Jay," Daggett relates. Several local merchants jumped on the bandwagon, offering good deals on an apartment, furniture, and a car. Daggett introduced Jay to Las Positas College and the Veterans First Group, so he could participate in the learning environment with fellow vets, people who share his experience. The city hired him as an unpaid intern, and now he has a paid part-time position in the operations group. "Jay has been here a year and has made a wonderful transition. This is more than we could ask for, and now our team is working on getting a second Sentinel," Daggett continues.
There are many ways businesses and individuals can contribute to the Sentinels of Freedom program. For more information, visit www.sentinelsoffreedom.com or call Daggett at (925) 598-2062.
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