Maginnes on Tap: A day of honor, perspective
Monday, September 12, 2011
• For all of John Maginnes' previous columns, check out the Maginnes on Tap archive
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – When you walk into the Airborne and Special Operations Museum on Bragg Boulevard in Fayetteville, you know that you are walking into a piece of history. The five-story high lobby features two life-size parachute exhibits and is awe-inspiring. On Saturday night, the lobby of the museum was the venue for the inaugural DTech Labs Pro-Am to benefit the Wounded Warriors.
Unlike other pro-am dinners, there were no long-winded speeches about the cause. There was food and drink and golf professionals sipping cocktails with soldiers. There wasn’t even a draw presentation. No one was particularly concerned with whom they would be playing the next day. There was no Pledge of Allegiance or Star Spangled Banner; these men and women made their pledge a long time ago, and they live it every day.
The evening and the day of golf that followed came together through the efforts of Lance Jordan, a former special operations soldier and current player on the eGolf Tour. “I wanted to help bring awareness of the friends that we have lost and those who have been wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq, and golf is a great way to do that,” he said.
In March, Jordan met a kindred spirit in Bob Denson, who is CEO of DTech Lab. The two were paired in a tournament and a bond was formed. “I got to meet some of these guys,” said Denson, “and realized how much they do compared to how little we do. They serve us their entire lifetimes.”
When Jordan suggested that they put together a day of golf to help benefit the Warriors, Denson already was sold.
The day came together quickly over the summer through the efforts of a small but dedicated group of people. Jordan’s PGA instructor, Bradley Clayton, loved the idea from the start and through his contacts and influence helped put the tournament together. Clayton has volunteered a tremendous amount of his time by conducting clinics on military bases for wounded servicemen. The concept was to have one professional and one Wounded Warrior with every group. Among the professionals were Nationwide Tour player Darren Stiles and 2007 British Amateur champion Drew Weaver.
“When I got the call I didn’t hesitate. I knew that I had to fit this into my schedule,” said Stiles, who left North Carolina for Boise, Idaho, afterward to continue his quest to get back to the PGA Tour.
Stiles, Weaver and all of us who teed it up on the Ryder Course at Fort Bragg on Sept. 11, were in for a unique experience. I played with Sgt. Gregory Scott Hartman, 31, from Shreveport, La., whose vehicle drove over an IED in Iraq while he was on his second tour in the desert. He was “banged up pretty good.” Although he played in obvious pain from the lower back injuries that he suffered in the explosion, he gave it his all and made a few key putts for the group. When the players behind us sent a couple of balls sailing toward our tee, they yelled ‘Fore’ and we all took cover. After one ball rattled off the cart in front of us, Hartman looked up and said, “Doc said that I shouldn’t do anything where I risk getting hit in the head again. Didn’t think golf was going to be a problem.”
Hartman is considering going back to school when he is healed and discharged.
Zachary Graves has been “all over the military and all over the world.” He has served in the Special Forces, infantry units and support units, to name a few. He said that he has been “anywhere that anyone could not want to go.” When Hartman hit it in the water in front of the fourth green, I joked that he would need the Navy SEALs to go after that one. Graves smiled and said almost shyly, “I am qualified.” This prompted the brief discussion about what else he was qualified to do. The list is long and impressive. His face lights up when he talks about HALO jumps. That is High Altitude Low Open – as in, jump from way up and not open your parachute for a long time.
“When you jump from 39,000 feet, you are above the blue sky,” he said. “If you look up, you can see the night stars in the middle of the day.”
I’ll just take his word for it.
Graves is planning to go back to school next year when he gets out of the military. He has dreams of playing the PGA Tour someday, and he may have the game to do it. Considering what he has accomplished and sacrificed already in his life, who could possibly tell him otherwise? He is 22 years old.
The senior member of our group was Civil Affairs Capt. Jeff Dawson, 36, of Kentucky (but please don’t call him Tom). He is an accomplished player who claims a 6 handicap, though at times he plays more like a 2. Dawson is career military man with nearly 17 years of service who has been deployed numerous times. He spent 18 months in Afghanistan and served a couple of tours in Korea. He is about to embark on a new phase of his career: he’ll learn Arabic.
“It is a unique challenge, especially for a guy that can barely speak English,” he jokes.
His English, like his sense of humor, is just fine. We joked a lot throughout the day. We joked about the fact that both beverage carts were on the back nine at one time when we were on the front nine . . . an example of “military precision.” (There were a few more jokes about how we could have won if our group had a better pro; that part probably was true actually.)
The day wrapped with a brief awards presentation. After the awards, one soldier stepped up and raised his beer. “To all the friends we have lost in the last 10 years,” he said. The crowd suddenly became silent. Hats came off. And everyone bowed their heads for a moment. Nothing more was said. In an instant, the moment was over.
To the civilians in attendance, the moment was powerful and moving. For the servicemen and servicewomen there, this is their life, their reality.
Drew Weaver summed it up best. He said, “Today benefited us a lot more than it benefited the wounded warriors. Perspective like this doesn’t come around very often.”