In the fall of 2003 I had the privilege of visiting U.S. troops at the naval base in Guantànamo Bay, Cuba, after a friend who is an officer there had invited me and gotten clearance. Last year I visited troops at Camp Walker in South Korea while I was in that country for a tournament. I never served in the military, but my grandfather fought in the Spanish-American War, and my father flew for the Air Force during the Cuban missile crisis. Like most people I appreciated the work our troops did to keep our country safe. But until I took those two trips, I had never realized how hard life could be as a member of the U.S. armed forces, especially during wartime.
We live pretty comfortably on Tour, which made me even more aware of how spartan the soldiers' accommodations are. I think there were only five rooms at Guantànamo Bay with air-conditioning, and it gets pretty hot down there. In many military hospitals the wounded arrive with nothing and spend their recovery with only the barest necessities and few distractions. I've heard from soldiers who said they walked around a hospital for nine months wearing only a hospital gown because they had no other clothes.
I can't say how often such occurrences happen, but the things my fiancée, Diane Owen, and I saw and heard made us want to get involved. That's when we learned about the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides hospitalized soldiers with backpacks containing gym shorts, T-shirts, a CD player and a long-distance phone card. The chance to call home that the phone card offers is huge for these young men and women. Over the last 18 months Wounded Warriors has given backpacks to about 4,000 injured soldiers. In that little way the project helps these brave people in their efforts to recover.
There are still a lot of wounded in need, though. In the last several years more than 16,000 U.S. troops have been injured in Afghanistan, Iraq and other regions. Last year I had a golf bag made that displays the patches of all 23 military units currently overseas. I'll carry the bag when I play in areas with large military populations. I hope that helps raise awareness and spurs donations to the project (woundedwarriorproject.org). At the end of the season I'll auction off the bag and give the proceeds to the project. I wish I could do more.
May 29, 2005
Life on the Tour is a particularly appealing version of the American Dream, but I know it's possible only because of the U.S. troops who are working to preserve our way of life. It's something worth fighting for, and those on the front lines deserve our gratitude and assistance.
TRUST ME by JAMES P. HERRE
The British will be Jack Nicklaus's final major, but no way will next week's Memorial be his last.