It’s About the Soldier
By Jacqueline O’Dell, Student Intern, Regent University
What defines wealth? For some, it could be the reward of seeing carefree grandchildren playing in the backyard. For others, living in a long sought-after dream home may be it. But for Army veteran and wounded warrior advocate Joel Hunt, wealth is defined by the ability to serve—something he calls “the chain of love.”
“I don’t know why more people aren’t doing this,” he says about helping veterans. “All I’m doing is sharing.” Joel acknowledges that he himself has been helped, and in turn, he bears a conviction to give back, regardless of circumstances.
Joel, 29, served as a combat engineer and returned from his third Iraq deployment in June 2005. His job was to detonate roadside bombs. An IED blast left him with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as slow paralysis of his left leg.
After two years in a wheelchair, he decided it was time to start helping others with the same unseen injuries. “TBI and PTSD will always be with you, but the only way to get better is to get out of the house and get connected to the community.” Joel mentioned that getting out just three to five minutes every day significantly helped him and fellow TBI/PTSD brothers-in-arms begin the recovery process.
“I created a peer group just trying to get guys out, and when the soldiers are out, it gets their minds off the problems…it empowers and brings out the best in them.”
He participates in many sports to encourage veterans and also advocates for Buddy Bowl, a rehabilitation charity for veterans and first responders. Fundraising takes place at flag football games. There, veterans and first responders battle for three games, then a final “playoff’ game. “I support Buddy Bowl because it changes lives,” he says. “Buddy Bowl was also the first time my dad was recognized for his service.” David Hunt, Joel’s father, was an Army Vietnam veteran. On top of enjoying himself at the competition, 65-year-old David connected with other veterans who were collectively honored for serving their country.
Air Compassion for Veterans (ACV) assists Joel by transporting him to events where he can empower other veterans to “live their lives” again. He thanks ACV for sponsoring these efforts. While he’s been approached to turn his growing peer group into a charity, he doesn’t want money to be involved in his organized efforts. If someone offers him funding, he says, “I just ask for [event] slots to be left open for vets.” He has also suggests that “donors” pay for (or sponsor) a few veterans for an activity, instead.
As the TBI/PTSD peer group leader, Joel has already organized sponsored outdoor activities for veterans for the entire 2013 summer. “We will be skydiving in June, zip-lining in July, and shooting with Freedom Hunters in August. It would be great if ACV could fly more vets to these events…it gets them [back] on track.”
In a nutshell, one might say Joel lives a wealthy life. Not because of any material possession, but perhaps it is because his life is dedicated to building a “chain” of good deeds that enables others to live again. “It’s not about the money,” Joel’s group motto states, “It’s about the soldier.”
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