You may have noticed the flyers around town about a special golf tournament to benefit returning post 9-11 veterans with PTSD or TBI. You may have not given it much thought; after all, there are still large areas of the ground still covered with snow, and the temperatures haven’t exactly lent themselves to triggering spring fever. But this tournament deserves a second look, if for no other reason than it is for a very important cause…and it is being held at one of the premier golf courses in the state.
The first annual Swing for Home Golf Tourney will be held at Huntsville Golf Club on Monday, April 21 at 10am –Easter Monday. The organizers, Andrea O’Neill of Mountaintop and Mary Wargo of Dallas, are participants in the 2014 Run to Home Base, an event that raises money for the Home Base Program. This program partners with Massachusetts General Hospital, Major League Baseball and the Department of Defense, among others, to provide “clinical care and support services to Iraq and Afghanistan service members, veterans and their families…who are affected by… combat related stress or traumatic brain injury (TBI).” The program offers “clinical and community education… and conducts research to improve treatment and understanding of Post-traumatic Stress (PTSD) and TBI.
Each participant in the Run to Home Base is required to raise at least $750 for the Home Base Program, which makes Mary and Andrea’s total commitment $1500. After meeting to discuss how they would go about raising the money, the connections became obvious –Andrea worked at Huntsville on the Greens and Grounds crew for ten years, and Mary’s husband, Chris, continues to be employed there after twenty. They met with Head Golf Pro and Director of Instruction, Matt Occhiato, and after only a few minutes, the Swing for Home Golf Tournament was born.
“I was expecting it to be harder, but Matt was very accommodating and gave us great advice. He was willing to take care of all the details of food, prizes, etc. We really can’t thank the club enough for their support and accommodation,” says Andrea.
Huntsville Golf Club is a Reese Jones private club opened in 1994. It was the runner up for Best New Private Course in 1995, which later named Huntsville’s iconic second hole as one of the top 500 Holes in the World. Golf Week also named Huntsville Golf Club as one of America’s 100 Best Modern Courses.
“Gorgeous. There is no other way to describe that place,” says Andrea. “It’s half mountain forest and half historic farmland. How Jones envisioned a course through there is beyond me but he did.”
“One of the key things we wanted out of this tournament was to give people who normally would not have access to this course the opportunity to experience it.” added Wargo. “We have purposely kept the price as low as possible to accommodate those on a budget, while still being able to raise enough money for the Home Base program.”
TBI and PTSD are the hallmarks of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The nature of urban warfare and the percussion created by IEDs affect the soldier in ways that cannot always be seen. Many return home physically intact, but can have trouble overcoming symptoms of combat stress such as difficulty concentrating or sleeping, social anxiety, hyper vigilance, concentration and memory problems, numbness, anxiety, irritability, and fatigue. These symptoms can manifest themselves in instances of road rage, domestic violence, assault, jail time, divorce, unemployment, depression, homelessness and sometimes, even suicide. Of those who have served, it’s estimated that one in three will experience an “invisible wound” and, according to the Rand report, less than 50% of veterans will seek care, either because of the fear of being seen as “weak” or because the government is ill equipped to handle such complicated diagnoses and treatment.
Treatment is not quick, nor is it cheap. The recovery process is just as long and arduous as it is to overcome a physical injury. Out of the 2 million men and women who have served in the military since 2001, approximately half deployed more than once, and many more than five times.
“Imagine having to explain to a child why daddy yells at mommy all the time or why mommy doesn’t seem to love them anymore. It’s heartbreaking. Mental symptoms have far reaching emotional consequences for everyone who knows and loves the affected soldier,” comments Andrea.
“It just doesn’t seem fair,” she continues. “There is no reason that ANY veteran should have such a hard time after serving their country or that a child should have to worry so much about a parent. After the sacrifices they’ve made, they should be able to come home and enjoy all the rest of what life has to offer them, and so should their families.”
Clearly the cause is very dear to Andrea, even though she has no direct experience with anyone suffering from combat related PTSD or TBI. Her passion comes from past experiences in the run, where she describes entire units of soldiers running in full gear for their comrades, people running for service members who have died, kids running for their parents, and spouses running for spouses.
She and Mary are hoping for a good turnout on April 21. Golfers can expect a light breakfast, lunch, several prizes and raffle opportunities in addition to the beautiful course and, hopefully, a satisfying round of golf.
“We are hoping people are able to spend the Easter holiday with their family and then come out and spend Monday on the course before traveling back home or returning to work,” adds Mary.
I hope everyone has a great time but I also would like people to carry with them that soldiers are not robots,” continues Andrea.
For more information on the Swing for Home Golf Tourney, find them on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/swing4homeor email them at Swing4home@gmail.comTo learn more about the Home Base Program, visit www.homebase.org