I would like to start by thanking all of you for your kind words following my receiving the River Rat of the Year Award. I am both humbled and honored to be recognized and certainly plan to live up to the recognition. Let me also mention that next May, we will be celebrating our 50th River Rat anniversary in Louisville. All who were Rats at the time of the 1967 organized start, please contact Shadow so that you can be recognized at the reunion.
My second very pleasant action is to welcome Lt. Gen. (Ret) USAF Sam Angelella as our newest AWCF Board member. Sam retired as 5th AF Commander in 2015. Following Tom Halley's retirement from the AWCF Board, he agreed to join us to enhance the Wild Weasel contingent on the Board.
You can see Sam's bio at http://tinyurl.com/Angelello.
I also want to announce that the AWCF and River Rats will, again, have a booth at this years AFA exhibit. We will be in booth number 140 from 19-21 September. If any of you can assist providing some time doing booth duty, please let me know. If not, please try to stop by and visit.
There are a couple of our programs that I want to update. The first is the status of the Christmas Hope effort and what we are doing for the children of the Wounded Warriors at SAMMC.
Under the leadership of Rick Zehrer, the Lake Travis Christmas Hope community has continued to contribute to those children. The good news is that the number of WWs is down from 700 in recent years to about 400 who are undergoing medical treatment or rehabilitation at SAMMC. About 3/4 of those military members are married and most of the families have children. At last count, there were about 600 youngsters. Many of those families are in dire financial straits and need our support during the average 2 1/2 years they stay in San Antonio. To help them during their stay in San Antonio, the AWCF, with the donations from the Lake Travis Christmas Hope effort, provided over the 2015 Christmas holidays, grants totaling $62,500 to 84 families including 211 children. Since January of this year, we have provided $20,001 in emergency grants to 24 Wounded Warrior families to assist in coping with emergency financial needs. Children of the Wounded Warrior families are now participating in summer camps at Ft. Sam Houston and Lackland AFB. These camp costs are covered by the Christmas Hope fund. We estimate that 120 children will attend at a cost of $26,880. This program is one of our most successful ones because we are able to reach out and help so many families and children.
Another program in which the AWCF has been able to help our Wounded Warriors has been Operation Canyon Rising. As you may remember, the AWCF supported Steve Connolly in taking 6 Wounded Warriors to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Well, Steve has organized another climb for Wounded Warriors. This is Operation Canyon Rising. I received the following from Steve so that all of you who are co-sponsors will know what he is doing. For your viewing pleasure, I am including a picture of the AWCF banner signed by the Kilimanjaro climbers.
"It is an expedition for disabled veterans to hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim as motivation to aid in their rehabilitation process and provide them with a monumental goal, that once achieved, will give them incentive to lead a fulfilling life.
Recognizing that sustaining a disabling injury or illness is an emotional roller coaster, it seems appropriate to tie the highs and lows of recovery into the analogy of a rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike. The kickoff from the North rim is symbolic of how life was before the injury or illness our veterans endured. Then by hiking down into the floor of the canyon, the permanent realities of the new disability and the monumental recovery ahead are realized. Finally, climbing out of the canyon on the South rim represents rising to meet this life-long challenge, learning to overcome limitations and find hope for both themselves and others.
Operation Canyon Rising will embark on the four day, 31-mile journey through the Grand Canyon on September 8th, 2016, completing the hike on the 15th anniversary of September 11th, a tragic date in our nation's history that sent many of the participating veterans to war. Included in the expedition are two cancer survivors.
This expedition comes after the success of the 2014 Kilimanjaro Warriors expedition, which consisted of six amputees and five wingmen climbers who summited Mount Kilimanjaro. By hiking over 50 miles for eight days, they had to overcome insurmountable obstacles and challenges, trusting that determination, hope and undeniable grit would triumph over disability."
Thanks to all of you for your support of the AWCF and its mission to "Help our own."