One hero at a time, benefit for wounded Afghanistan veteran

MESQUITE, Nev. — From noon to 8 p.m. Saturday, veterans and friends gathered at the Casa Blanca Event Center in Mesquite, Nev. to pay tribute to Afghanistan Veteran Sgt. Travis Wood and his family.

While out on a recovery mission in south Afghanistan in 2007, Wood’s vehicle was targeted and hit by an IED. The blast itself broke his spinal cord. After a struggle through 84 surgeries, including operations to fix his right rib cage, intestines and lungs, doctors told Wood that he was paralyzed from the waist down.

“At first I was stuck in a hospital bed then I started getting feeling in my feet,” Wood said. “I decided that I was going to prove people wrong and keep my leg. The first time I walked I took three steps, I was soaked in sweat.”

At the "One Hero at Time" benefit outside Casa Blanca's Event Center, Mesquite, Nevada, April 12, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News
At the “One Hero at Time” benefit outside Casa Blanca’s Event Center, Mesquite, Nevada, April 12, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

Though he lost part of his right leg, Wood said the greatest challenge has been mental. As one of few amputees who live in Cedar City, people stare, he said. Many people don’t know how to act toward him but he has let those feelings subside, he said. After receiving a purple heart and retiring from the military his goal is to now make it to the Paralympics as a cyclist.

“In the military you plan on coming home to see your family or coming home in a box,” Wood said. “I didn’t know about the gray area, coming home injured but still living.”

Through 2 1/2 years of recovery at the Walter Reed hospital in Washington D.C., his wife Stephanie said that she had a very different experience than Travis. Around the time of the incident, the troops were scheduled to come home for a visit.

“We never got the welcome home with all the hugging and kissing like you see on T.V.,” she said. “He showed up in the hospital. I watched him almost die. Maddy was two at the time. Travis was so positive through the ten months that he lived in the hospital, he helped me get through.”

Wood holds no animosity toward the people of Afghanistan especially because the majority of the people he fought against while overseas were innocent people, he said, farmers that the Taliban sent with guns and told them to either follow orders or be killed.

“Acts of terrorism are just that,” he said. “They don’t represent the whole nationality.”

Volunteer veteran stands outside the doors at the "One Hero at Time" benefit outside Casa Blanca's Event Center, Mesquite, Nevada, April 12, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News
Volunteer veteran stands outside the doors at the “One Hero at Time” benefit outside Casa Blanca’s Event Center, Mesquite, Nevada, April 12, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

Going through this tragedy helped him be more appreciative of the “stupid little things” like plumbing and a basic shower, things that are part of our daily ho-hum routine in America, things we often times forget to be grateful for, Wood said. On the same note, the military helped him find his true potential and if he could go back he wouldn’t change a thing, he said.

This is the sixth “One Hero at a Time” benefit organized by a group of volunteers out of Henderson, Nev. whose main mission is to honor a veteran who has made great sacrifice for the country, Desert Storm Veteran Ricky Hillis said. Around 99 percent of the volunteers are veterans themselves, many who fought in Vietnam. They want the next generation of veterans coming out of wars like Afghanistan and Iraq to feel appreciated for their service.

“Most of us veterans had attitudes for a long time after returning from a war zone,” Hillis said. “I think this helps heal not only the honored veteran and his family, but also others veterans and the community.”

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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