Groups Thank Golfers for Support

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

CROMWELL, Conn., Oct. 11, 2006 - Yesterday ended with a wave of gratitude for golfers who participated in the Pratt & Whitney America Supports You Tournament at River Highlands TPC golf club here.

The 18-hole tournament raised nearly $110,000 to benefit three organizations that support wounded servicemembers and their families.

"This money goes to a vital mission, to assist (wounded servicemembers), to get them back into life (and) to help the families," John Melia, executive director of the Wounded Warrior Project, told the more than 200 people gathered for the Salute to Our Troops Dinner, sponsored by AT&T.

"Thank you so much," he said. "Without you, we can't do what we do."

The funds raised through registration fees, a raffle and a silent auction will be divided evenly between the Wounded Warrior Project, Homes For Our Troops and the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. All three organizations are members of America Supports You, a Defense Department program highlighting ways Americans and the corporate sector support the nation's servicemembers.

"You got together for a really great cause. It was a great day of golf," John Gonsalves, founder of Homes For Our Troops, told the group. "But for John (Melia) and Wounded Warrior, and myself and Homes For Our Troops, our mission goes on for a long time, and it doesn't end today."

Homes For Our Troops has surpassed its goal of being able to provide 20 homes to wounded servicemembers by the end of the year, Gonsalves said. At present, the group has pledged homes for 25 wounded servicemembers.

Eight have been completed, and another 17 are in progress. One of the latter will go to Marine Cpl. Brian Johnston of Connecticut. Johnston lost his right arm and leg when a roadside bomb hit his vehicle near Fallujah, Iraq, on Nov. 8, 2004. He was with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment, 1st Marine Division at the time.

"We're looking to close on the land right now," Gonsalves said. "We're hoping it should be within a couple of weeks."

Linda Schwartz, Connecticut commissioner of veterans affairs and a retired Air Force major, also expressed her gratitude to those who participated in the fundraiser.

Offering a unique understanding of the importance of the event, she told a story of her grandfather taking her to a golf course so she could watch a World War II veteran play the sport her family loved. The man had lost an arm in the war, but could drive a golf ball further than her grandfather, she said. That experience made a lasting impression.

"I saw that you don't have to have everything to be able to make it in the world," she said, adding that she was amazed at what the group had accomplished for wounded servicemembers.

"This country, because of your support, will show these (servicemembers) that return a welcome home that they generously deserve," Schwartz said. "I thank you all."

The dinner concluded with the presentation of awards, including those for "closest to the pin" and the top three teams.

Connecticut Army National Guardsman Maj. Michael Falk was a member of the team who took second place overall. For their efforts, he and his civilian teammates, Paul Cartelli, Bob Delisa and Bill Orlowski, each received $75 gift certificates to the Highland Rivers golf shop.

Since TPC teamed with America Supports You in 2005, similar fundraising events have been held at each of 24 TPC golf clubs nationwide. The next Highland Rivers event to benefit the America Supports You groups is scheduled for Oct. 9, 2007.

"I think the event is already sold out for next year," Bill Whaley, general manager for River Highlands TPC, said.

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