Operation Lone Star ends, begins the year with smiles

Jim Conley

Operation Lone Star-Texans Supporting Our Troops ended the old year and began the new one with visits to military personnel at San Antonio Military Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston and the Audie Murphy Veterans Memorial Hospital.

I entered her room and immediately recognized her from our August visit. She had been severely injured in an auto accident in early 2014. She remembered us and thanked us for the Christmas goodies.

We said goodbye and stepped out into the hallway. Standing there was the young soldier from Oklahoma, smiling as he modeled his Operation Lone Star t-shirt. Everyone broke out in a smile. He went back to his room while we gave goodies to the staff.

We wanted to take a picture of our Oklahoma hero, so we went to his room and found him checking out the goodies. The candies from the Christmas stocking were carefully and strategically laid out on his bed, in a manner expected from military personnel.

We wished him luck and said our goodbyes.

We found our way back to Interstate 10 and headed back to Houston, grateful for the Christmas these Warriors and their guardians gave us.

We had one more holiday event scheduled.

Last fall I was contacted by HPD retiree Homer “Steve” Stevens, who lives in Boerne, near San Antonio. Steve had read about Operation Lone Star in The Retired Badge and invited us to attend a barbeque dinner he, his wife Stephanie, and friends were providing to Wounded Heroes and their families at the Warrior and Family Support Center on Jan. 1. We were honored to accept the invitation.

As always, the soldiers and families who attended were appreciative of the thoughtfulness of Steve, Stephanie’s and their colleagues. There were ample supplies of brisket, sausage, beans, etc. No one left hungry; in fact, Steve and his group encouraged everyone to take a plate or plates with them and several took advantage of their kind offer.

On behalf of the Warriors and families who partook in the barbeque feast, I want to thank Steve and Stephanie Stevens, Lt. Col. (retired) Bob Simpson, Leasa Northcutt, Fran Vanecko, Leslie Martz, Janet Simpson, Lt. Col. (retired) Jerry Herrington, Major Debra Packler and Lt. Col. Marc Packler. And thanks to all of them for allowing us to participate.

The year 2014 was by far the best year of our six and a half years of existence. We’re looking forward to 2015.

Thanks again to all my HPD friends and colleagues, active and retired, for supporting our efforts. A special thanks to Phil Tippen, Nelson Zoch, Ray Collins and Fred Walschburger.

God bless our Troops and God Bless America.

On Dec. 14, having purchased over $700 worth of toys and other goodies, we proceeded to San Antonio. We were accompanied by my daughter, Enid, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and a Broward County, Florida deputy sheriff, and her fiancé, Scott, also a Broward County deputy. Scott recently enlisted in the Navy Reserve and will be leaving for boot camp in May.

Our first stop was at the Warrior and Family Support Center at SAMMC. Due to it being a Sunday and the holiday season there were no activities that day. However, we left two large Santa bags full of toys which were to be given to Wounded Heroes’ children at the Christmas party the following evening.

A Busy Schedule

From there we proceeded to San Antonio Military Medical Center (formerly Brooke Army Medical Center), located a short distance from the WFSC. We went to the Intensive Care Unit where we had visited Lt. Nick Sullivan last August. This visit was specifically for the nursing staff.

This is an unbelievably dedicated group of men and women who go above and beyond to treat and comfort the Warriors in their unit.

Upon our arrival we were taken to the nurse supervisor and some of her staff, where we introduced ourselves and gave them a large goody basket and Christmas stockings. They quickly became speechless and teary-eyed. The supervisor explained that she had been taking care of these young men and women for 20 years and no one had ever given her or her staff gifts. They were truly grateful for the gifts and repeatedly asked, “You drove all the way from Houston just for this? ”

We heard that several more times that day, as we have in the past. It’s really not a long drive, especially when we know we will be rewarded with smiles and hugs.

After visiting with the nursing staff we left SAMMC for the Audie Murphy Veterans Memorial Hospital across town. This was where we were introduced to Lt. Sullivan last July and were impressed by the dedication and professionalism of the Polytrauma Unit staff.

We donated a Casio music keyboard for the recreation room after being told that this instrument would be beneficial for patient morale and recovery, and presented the staff with boxes of snacks and goodies.

We were then allowed to visit several of the patients. The nurse who assisted us checked with each patient to see if he or she would allow visitors, and with one exception, we spent several minutes with them.

The first veteran we visited was recovering from hand/arm surgery. As with each patient, we gave him a goody bag containing several items, including sweat pants and sweat shirts, as requested by the Polytrauma Unit Staff. We also gave each a Christmas stocking and an Operation Lone Star t-shirt.

Spreading the Goodies

He thanked us for the gifts and, as usual, was surprised that we had come from Houston. He then told us his sister lives in Houston – and is a Houston police officer assigned to Narcotics Division.

Small world. I told him that I don’t know her well but that I do know who she is.

From there we were led down the hallway to another patient’s room. His wife was in the hallway, so we explained who we were and why we were there. She stepped into her husband’s room momentarily then returned to tell us he didn’t want visitors, that he had suffered a stroke and didn’t want anyone to see him. We understood and gave her the goody bag and the Christmas stocking.

Our next visit was with a young Marine from the Dallas area who is recovering from a traumatic brain injury. He was going home soon. He thanked us several times for the goodies and the stocking and was obviously grateful that strangers would take the time to visit.

We went around the corner and met a young soldier from Oklahoma who suffered a traumatic brain injury while training. This young man made our day. He would be going home soon, also. Although he still had a way to go before he is fully recovered he was extremely motivated. His goal is to recover, get back in shape and get back into the active-duty Army. He was smiling, in good spirits, and was excited when my daughter explained that she’s an Army veteran.

We gave him an Operation Lone Star-Texans Supporting Our Troops challenge coin and explained the significance of the symbols on it. As I explained the quote, “I shall never surrender or retreat, ” that is embossed on the coin, I could see that this young man would have no problem meeting that goal. He’ll never know how he lifted our spirits. We gave him a t-shirt and left him with his bag and Christmas stocking.

The nurse led us to a room down the hall to a female Marine patient. Judy and Sandy (our vice president and our secretary/treasurer, respectively) entered the room first to ensure that she was agreeable to a male visitor, too.

As they waved for me to enter, I heard someone speaking to me. I turned to see a male patient in a wheelchair, assisted by a female. It was the patient who didn’t want to be seen by anyone. She said he was so touched by the gifts that he had to come out and say thank you. We shook hands, I gave him a hug and said, “Thank YOU! ”

It took me a second to get myself together so I could visit the Marine.