When Army Soldier Eric was serving in Iraq in October 2005, his vehicle was attacked and hit by a roadside bomb. Eric sustained serious shrapnel injuries, and while awaiting transport to Germany, went into cardiac arrest. He lost oxygen to his brain for 30 minutes, resulting in an anoxic brain injury.

But Eric’s overwhelming courage and astounding recovery has amazed doctors. After months of rehab, Eric is now able to eat and communicate on his own. On the day he left rehab, Eric was able to walk out of the hospital and greet his wife and daughter, age two, and the rest of his family. 

Freedom Alliance hosted a series of “Salute to Our Heroes” outdoor sporting retreats for wounded and recovering servicemembers in April and May of 2011, Eric was one brave servicemember they wanted to honor.

Salute to Our Heroes events provide servicemembers with an all-expenses paid vacation, a time away from a hospital or rehab center, and most importantly, a retreat filled with camaraderie, good food and the opportunity to enjoy some of their favorite activities – fishing, archery, trap and skeet shooting, music and NASCAR.

Each event hosts roughly 20 servicemembers, and Freedom Alliance staff work closely with each attendee. While Eric’s injuries left him unable to operate a standard bow, he was thrilled to discover that he had been provided with a self-cocking Parker crossbow, which allowed him to take part in the archery activities. “Watching Eric with his father, Ed, was the most heart warming sight,” said Freedom Alliance Director of Programs, Pepper Ailor. “The crossbow would rest on the table, and Ed would take aim as Eric would pull the trigger.”

For many servicemembers who attend a Salute to Our Heroes retreat, this is their first chance to leave the hospital or rehab center since their injury. “Thank you for one of the best weeks of my life and the first vacation I’ve ever taken for myself. It was amazing,” said Christina, a soldier from Fort Bragg, who attended a Salute to Our Heroes retreat in Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia.   

“We tell stories, just hang out, talk about our injuries, experiences and the medical retirement process,” said Ryan, a Marine who was shot in the leg in 2006 and injured by a roadside bomb in Fallujah in 2008.

At an event held in Wakefield, Virginia, servicemembers were taken to the Richmond International Raceway to meet with drivers getting ready for the Bubba Burger 250 race. Several drivers, including Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Rusty Wallace, and Eric’s favorite, Tony Stewart, met with the servicemembers. Troops who attended the Smith Mountain Lake event enjoyed a country rock concert featuring Bobby Pinson and Petty Cash.

“The Salute to Our Heroes event provides a safe environment where these warriors can engage in fun activities surrounded by staff, volunteers, and a community that truly have a heart for their sacrifices and are not ashamed to shower them with appreciation.  In a matter of days, we become lifelong friends – and that’s the best result,” said Ailor.

While many servicemembers still have a long road of recovery ahead, a Salute to Our Heroes Retreat provides them with an opportunity to again enjoy the simple things in life: a quiet morning beside a lake, camaraderie and healing with friends, and the knowledge that a grateful nation has not forgotten their sacrifices.

“Thank you! It was a great time,” Eric wrote to Freedom Alliance once the event was over. “Good memories and good friends were made!”