By Nathan Ham
On Saturday at Appalachian Ski Mountain, a special event honoring wounded veterans from all parts of the southeast was held to give these men and women the opportunity to experience a great day on the ski slopes.
The sixth annual Heroes on the Mountain Wounded Warrior Event presented by the Appalachian Ski Patrol was held to honor, support and raise awareness to our nation’s wounded veterans of war.
Retired Colonel Donald R. Franklin of the United States Army was the special speaker for the event and was introduced to the crowd by ski patroller Chuck Rhodes.
Col. Franklin was born in Morganton and attended Appalachian State University. He was a member of the ROTC program and the Army National Guard. Franklin graduated from Appalachian in 1991 and received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1990. Franklin went on to enroll in the Army Special Forces Qualification Course in 1996 and was awarded with the prestigious Green Beret. Col. Franklin deployed multiple times in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2002-2010 on numerous Special Forces assignments.
“It’s an honor to be here today at such a great event,” Franklin said to the wounded warriors in attendance. “Today is all about you, sitting here in front of us. We honor you and the sacrifices you have made to something greater than yourself. We honor your service, we honor those who have given their lives in defense of this nation and we honor those that continue to serve. They all answered the call to defend our freedom and our way of life. We owe you and your families the highest respect for your sacrifices, dedication and service to our country.”
Franklin spoke briefly about his time in the United States Army and the importance of working together as one.
“The key component is all about the team. Your ability to accomplish your assigned mission is predicated on everyone giving an equal effort and carrying their share of the load, because you can’t do it alone, you will need some help, and to truly get from your starting point to your destination, you’re going to need some help from friends, colleagues, and sometimes perfect strangers,” Franklin said. “At times our assigned mission seemed impossible until the team came together, working in unison, and through pure determination, could accomplish most anything. Success is determined by your will to succeed. It truly comes down to the people around you.”
The Wounded Warrior Project prides itself on being able to reach out and connect to wounded veterans to do what they can to help the healing process from injuries, both mental and physical, sustained during their time in battle.
“As we know, some injuries are visible and some are not. Today is about communal healing, as these gatherings allow for spiritual and mental health healing. It is also about a creed we all live by: ‘I will never leave a fallen comrade.’ Today should reinforce the fact that you are never alone,” Franklin said.
Drew Stanley, the Marketing Director for Appalachian Ski Mountain, was happy to see the event take place for such a worthy cause.
“It turned out to be a really great morning, it’s a special thing to be able to honor those people like that,” Stanley said.
Joe Donadio is the Ski Patrol Director and is more than happy to help the wounded warriors get a chance to learn how to ski, hit the slopes and have some fun. He said that the idea came together about seven years ago and has gotten bigger and better every year.
“We had a number of patrollers that were starting to go overseas and taking a leave of absence and I wanted a way to honor and pay respect for them and the time they were putting in over there. I contacted the Wounded Warrior Project and talked to one of their representatives and asked if we could make a weekend event where we could support their families and pay respect and honor those people that were doing all of this overseas,” said Donadio. “We started out with about 12 to 15 warriors and this year we were up to 88 so it has grown over the past couple of years.”
This year, each wounded warrior had a chance to bring a fellow veteran with them and had expenses covered by the Wounded Warrior Project and Appalachian Ski Patrol, including hotel accommodations, food and their ski time on the mountain.
“I think we had about 45 patrollers that were involved helping with the event to make all of this happen,” said Donadio.
Fox Kinsman played the bagpipes for the event and the Blowing Rock Fire Department helped out by allowing them to display the United States flag on a fire truck ladder after the flag was brought down the mountain by a group of ski patrollers. Chetola was also kind enough to allow for the veterans to have their BBQ dinner prepared by the Gamewell Fire Department at the resort on Saturday night.
Photos by Tara Diamond