Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Condoleezza Rice addresses valley vets

Higher Ground holds successful fundraiser

Express Staff Writer

Though the United States faces a myriad of problems, Americans have good reasons to feel confident about their country, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during a speech at Trail Creek Cabin in Sun Valley on Friday.
    Rice spoke at a fundraiser for the nonprofit organization Higher Ground, which helps injured veterans. She said the speech was a favor to her friend Christina Boskin, an original board member and the founder of the organization’s military programming.
    A substantial part of Rice’s speech consisted of praising both the values of the U.S. Constitution and the soldiers who attended the event.
    “We really do appreciate your service because you have fought for every individual citizen’s rights,” Rice said. “You’re never going to be alone. We will always be with you, and we’re going to be with your families who also served in a very special way on the home front while you have served us abroad.”
    Sean McEntee, Higher Ground’s director of military programming, said the fundraiser raised between $400,000 and $500,000.
    “This is above and beyond anything we’ve done [as a fundraiser] in the past,” McEntee said.
    McEntee credited Rice’s speech with generating significant interest in the event.
    However, Rice spoke for only about 15 minutes.
    Toward the end of her speech, Rice acknowledged the issues that the U.S. faces, but concluded on a positive note.
    “I know sometimes it feels like it’s all breaking down,” she said. “We’ve got so many problems. We’ve got debt that can’t be paid, we’ve got entitlements that can’t be reformed. Heaven knows we have questions about immigration. Of course, we have terrible problems in educating our youth.
    “But we have something going for us that is unknown and unparalleled in human history—individual citizens understand that it is our responsibility, not to our government but to each other, to uphold each other, to lift each other up, that there will be no regrets, that nobody is ever left behind. And that, I would say, puts us all on higher ground.”
    Following Rice’s remarks, former Army soldier Chess Johnson shared his stories, both positive and negative, on his experiences in Iraq.
    While Johnson captured the audience’s attention with his experiences of suffering nearly mortal wounds, he also placed a great deal of emphasis on the impact that Higher Ground had on his life.
    “Higher Ground saved my life,” he said. “Higher Ground isn’t simply a camp, it’s a community. When I didn’t want to come out, they made me come out. They bend over backwards for vets—they won’t let you retire.”
    Johnson also provided clear context for the struggles he faced in his day-to-day life after completing his military service, as he struggled to readapt into society.
    During his speech, Johnson said he once asked himself questions like, “What is my drive? What is my purpose? A man has to have a purpose, if you don’t have a purpose in life, you don’t have drive. And without drive, you stand still. I want to live, I want to be alive.”
    Additionally, Johnson shared his gratitude for his experiences with Higher Ground by revealing how he was able to build the bonds with other people that he thought he could only do in the military.
    “When I left the military, I thought there was a brotherhood that wouldn’t be broken,” he said. “There wasn’t—we separated. The Higher Ground is forming a veteran brotherhood for us—we just have to be smart enough to get on the train.”
    According to the website of the Sun Valley chapter of Higher Ground, “We enhance quality of life through inclusive therapeutic recreation and education for people of all abilities. As a positive and visible future in the adaptive recreation industry, our programs give individuals with disabilities the opportunity to experience competition and the outdoors without limitations.”
    The last speaker of the fundraiser before the auction began was Bert Gillette, who stressed the importance that Higher Ground can have in helping soldiers get their life back together after they’ve finished serving their country.
    “We’re able to take the veteran that’s on the verge of divorce, who can’t get out of his house and has been contemplating suicide and help turn them into happy and healthy productive members of their community,” he said.
    As Gillette gave his remarks, he exuded a strong sense of pride in what he and Higher Ground seek to accomplish. He spoke of how helping people who have served in the military regain their purpose in life has become his personal purpose.
    He also explained why potential donors could take pride in helping Higher Ground expand its programming.
    “As a program that operates under zero federal or government monies, we don’t have to worry about red tape in bureaucracy, we’re nimble,” he said. “We can change and adapt. When we see something that works on the fly, we change it right then and there at that moment.”

Eric Avissar:

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