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09-23-08, 09:42 AM
Group brings hope to wounded Marines, families
Hope for the Warriors began as a result of one Marine's injuries.
Jenny Sokol
The Orange County Register

Robin Kelleher and Shannon Maxwell were friends long before the war in Iraq began. As young men, their husbands went through Officer Candidate School together and became Marines.

The couples started families, and in 2004, were stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. During his sixth deployment overseas and his third combat deployment, Maxwell's husband, Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell, was severely wounded.

A mortar exploded directly outside of Maxwell's tent soon after he laid down for a power nap. Shrapnel embedded in his brain. He narrowly evaded death that day and soon began a long road of recovery at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Along the way, Shannon and Robin couldn't help but notice the various needs of the many other families visiting their wounded loved ones in the hospital.

For instance, at the time, the military provided funds for only one family member to visit their service member. If a spouse flew to Maryland to stay by the bedside of her wounded husband, who would stay home with the kids? If parents traveled to Maryland to visit a wounded son or daughter, how long could they be absent from work? If a single mom eventually lost her job, how would she make the house payment?

"There were financial burdens to families from day one," says Robin of the unanticipated and urgent financial needs. The women also recognized that the wounded warriors were missing one of the most important parts of a combat deployment: a homecoming. Intent on helping both wounded warriors and their families, Robin and Shannon organized a fundraiser at Camp Lejeune.

Over 2,000 runners participated in what the women called the Run for the Warriors. Buoyed by the overwhelming response, Robin and Shannon coined the name Hope for the Warriors soon after. They appointed a staff made up entirely of military spouses and dived into operating a nonprofit organization full time.

Four years later, Hope for the Warriors has enhanced the quality of life of countless military families who have been affected by combat injuries or death. The Immediate Needs program provides support to families struggling with urgent issues. These families need help keeping the electricity on until next month or filling their car with gas so they can drive back and forth to the VA hospital. Recently, when a wounded warrior's disability rating status changed, the paperwork process – and the increase in pay – required a 90-day wait.

"We fill in those gaps," Robin says.

A Warrior's Wish grants wishes to severely injured service members. Recently, a sergeant received an all-terrain wheelchair because he hopes to one day hunt again. A corporal received golf equipment designed with his amputation in mind. A laptop computer was given to a double amputee who hoped to e-mail buddies and watch movies while he recovered in the hospital.

Each year, Hope for the Warriors also grants scholarships to a spouse of a wounded service member and a spouse of a fallen service member. These scholarships not only recognize the commitment and sacrifices of the spouses, but assist them in their new role as the financial providers.

Caseworker and volunteer Carol Turner is a Marine Corps spouse stationed in Newport, R.I. She is currently overseeing bathroom renovations for a young Marine who lost both arms and a large portion of his face in the blast of an improvised explosive device. "His spirit is amazing and constantly motivates me," Carole says.

May will mark the fourth annual Run for the Warriors. The race occurs on Armed Forces Day and is now held simultaneously in several locations around the country, as well as in Iraq. This fall Team Hope for the Warriors will compete in the Marine Corps marathon in Quantico, Va. The team comprises motivated amputees, hand-cyclists, active-duty service members and spouses, as well as civilians. Any person registering for any sporting event nationwide can now join Team Hope for the Warriors online and represent the organization in the event.

In the years since their life-changing events of 2004, Robin and Shannon have helped countless wounded warriors and their families in their hours of need. As for Lt. Col Maxwell, after relearning to speak and perform everyday tasks, he continues to serve as an active-duty Marine. An advocate for wounded warriors, he conceived the notion of the Wounded Warrior Barracks at Camp Lejeune – a place where active-duty Marines can recover together. The facility is aptly named Maxwell Barracks.

There are a number of ways to help Hope for the Warriors. For more information, check out Hope for the Warriors online.

Contact the writer: JSokol@kc.rr.com