Waterfront Warriors reunites veteran with parents
April 17, 2013|By Ben Wolford, Sun Sentinel
SINGER ISLAND — — Army officer Brendan Harkess stood in the lobby of an oceanfront resort here Tuesday thinking he was posing for a picture.
Actually, he was being reunited with his parents after a year on opposite ends of the country. West Palm Beach Waterfront Warriors orchestrated the surprise.
“He was talking about his parents so much it just kind of got to our hearts,” said Joe Bartlett, 64, a former Palm Beach County firefighter who helps lead the project, which has granted Florida vacations to about two dozen hospital-bound veterans.
Bartlett said the Fraternal Order of Leatherheads Society, another firefighters group, also contributed money to make the trip happen.
Seven soldiers participated this year. Bartlett said they went over budget to fly Judy and Brian Harkess in from Seattle.
“We called everybody down into the lobby on the pretense that we wanted to do a group shot,” Bartlett said.
Brendan Harkess didn’t notice until after the pictures were taken that it was his mother’s hand on his shoulder. Their joy brought everyone to tears.
At 27, Brendan Harkess stands 6-feet-5-inches tall, and the only evidence of his injury is his halting speech.
On Sept. 25, 2011, Brendan Harkess was doing his job in Afghanistan as an engineer in a route-clearing company. This is exactly what it sounds like. From inside an armored truck, Brendan Harkess was looking for roadside bombs.
“And he found one in a bad way,” Judy Harkess said.
The front of the truck flew into the air. Brendan Harkess and two other soldiers smacked their heads. “Broke a large computer screen with my head,” he said.
He broke the screen, but the screen broke him, too. He suffered a traumatic brain injury. The violent jolt up and down injured his spine and the nerves around it.
Judy and Brian Harkess received a phone call from a field hospital.
“I’m still alive, and I’m not dying,” were the first words they heard.
They flew to visit him in recovery at Ramstein, Germany, but the trip was short. And Brendan Harkess was working half the time. Much of their time together was over dinner.
These days, Brendan Harkess is living in Virginia at Fort Belvoir. Half the week he undergoes physical and cognitive therapy. He lost some memory and the ability to create new memories. So doctors are repairing those connections with puzzles and thought exercises. He is also improving his range of motion.
The other half of the week, he works for a unit that deploys troops to restore power during domestic natural disasters, including Hurricane Sandy. He’s the No. 2 in the unit, overseeing 110 soldiers. He says he puts them first when vacation time comes up.
“Brendan usually gives his trips away to his men,” Judy Harkess said.
Not this time.
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Thank you very much to all of you who participated in helping out with our 2011 Wounded Warriors visit. All six individuals enjoyed activities they had never experienced before. Off shore fishing, Sunfest, surfing, R&R at a 5 star resort were all just part of their visit. Those of us who were lucky enough to meet these people, listen to their stories and get to know them are all better people for it and very grateful to them for their service to our country. Their frequent commenting on not wanting to leave are a testament to all of your efforts. Please see the following article published in the Sun Sentinel 4/30/11. You’ll find more pictures from this event on our Photo Gallery page.
Five wounded warriors soak up the sun in Palm Beach County
Local firefighters organized the vets’ getaway
By Wayne K. Roustan, Sun Sentinel
9:49 a.m. EDT, April 30, 2011
Five recovering war veterans are getting a dose of sun and surf in Palm Beach County — just what the doctors ordered at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
The veterans, along with a caregiver, arrived at Palm Beach International Airport on Thursday for a few days of rest and relaxation away from the the confines of the hospital, according to Joe Bartlett, a Palm Beach County Fire Rescue retiree.
U.S. Marines Staff Sgt. Glen Silva, 39, is among them.
He returned from northern Afghanistan in October without his lower left leg and has undergone nearly 40 surgeries for several other wounds, but he still managed to win a trophy on his first ocean fishing trip on Friday.
“I’m used to catching rainbow trout,” Silva said after the group caught a sailfish and two tuna.
“I think the fish just knew there was a Marine out on the water and they were like, ‘Hey look, if we don’t get on his line, this guy’s going to jump in,'” Silva chuckled.
The four men and two women are guests of the West Palm Beach Waterfront Warriors, a group of local firefighters providing accommodations, entertainment and anything else the wounded warriors desire before they fly back to Washington on Sunday.
“These guys have done a phenomenal job from the very beginning,” Silva said. “Once we get back to Walter Reed, I’ll be grabbing other Marines and telling them, ‘Look, you’re going on this trip next time.'”
The vets also are getting the VIP treatment at SunFest this weekend.
Hotel rooms, meals and activities were donated to the local Waterfront Warriors.
“It’s weird to be treated so freakin’ good as we’ve been treated,” Silva said. “Definitely unexpected.”
The gesture was inspired by the Long Beach Waterfront Warriors, a group of New York firefighters who organize getaways for wounded veterans.
The Waterfront Warriors organizations also help to connect veterans with services, institutions or information they may need, officials said.
“I’m doing really well,” Silva said. “Doing really well.”
Bartlett said 100 percent of donations received go to the veterans.