The Spirit of a Hero

The flippant, colloquial phrase, “I would give an arm and a leg for some air conditioning right now,” perhaps said while roasting in the hot Texas sun, may never be uttered again once you encounter someone who has done just that — only for a much greater cause. 

In the modern suburb of Frisco, our freedoms and conveniences are easily taken for granted. We walk the streets without fear. We are free to choose how we live our lives. We can easily seek shelter from the elements and we sleep soundly with soft pillows and safe homes.

Rick Turner, a former 82nd Airborne, has slept in dirt trenches, had sand with every meal and has seen how lives can change in an instant. A sniper shot killed his wounded friend while Mr. Turner tended to him, and Mr. Turner himself was shot in the head, right after repositioning his helmet. Only the split-second addition of Kevlar® saved his life. 

Once he returned to civilian life, Mr. Turner worked as a commercial electrician and never really mentioned his military experiences. According to his wife, Tancy, that all changed when he happened to read a Dallas Morning News article about Travis Mills, an 82nd Airborne who had lost all four limbs while disarming an improvised explosive device (IED) on his twenty-fourth birthday.

“When Rick came home, he was just a mess,” Mrs. Turner explains. “He was crying and saying I had to read this story right now and that he had to do something for this guy. He said he wanted to give him half of his paycheck.”

Mr. Turner says, “He was 82nd Airborne; I was 82nd Airborne. He was 2nd Brigade Combat Team; I was 2nd Brigade Combat Team. He was 11 Bravo; I was 13 Fox. Everything was just too similar.”

With six kids between them, Mrs. Turner kindly suggested they try to organize a motorcycle ride instead. “So, we started making some phone calls, and every door we pushed on came open,” she says. Before they knew it, they had around 1,800 bikers, numerous vendor donations and a Huey helicopter escort in the sky. Mr. Mills’ father-in-law helped lead the pack, and at the end of the ride, all cash donations were put into his saddle bags — without bothering to count it. 

Mrs. Turner says, “That afternoon, we got a screen shot of his calculator, and we had raised more than $30,000 for Travis. That is when Spirit of a Hero (SOAH) was born.” The organization became an official 501(c)(3) organization in August 2012.

“What we want to do at SOAH is make a significant difference in a critically-wounded veteran’s life,” Mrs. Turner explains. “There are a lot of foundations out there that will give $100 here or $500 there, but we wanted to make a significant difference. With Travis, we just gave all the money to them. But, from there, as a 501(c)(3), we had to put some parameters in place.”

One SOAH recipient is named each year, with smaller one-off donations made to other veterans throughout the year. Nominations of critically-wounded veterans come in via their website (spiritofahero.org), email, phone calls or word-of-mouth. Each veteran is vetted, using DD-214s to verify injuries in combat, confirming an honorable discharge and ensuring “they have the spirit of a hero.” 

When asked by members of Mr. Mills’ family, “Why do you want to do this for a complete stranger?” Mrs. Turner says her husband explained he just had to do this, even though they had never met. Mr. Mills was like a brother since he had also served in the 82nd Airborne. Mrs. Turner says, “For me, it was a restoration in humanity — restoring faith that there are good people out there fighting for our freedom, either losing their lives or losing limbs, and coming home and still fighting the good fight. They are not giving up.”

Mrs. Turner says, even after losing all four limbs, Mr. Mills would not hesitate to serve again. “That is what these guys do for us. That is where the emotions really start to set in, when you realize everything we get to do and our freedom are because of these guys.”

Even without a military background, Mrs. Turner’s genuine concern for these families is evident as she relays the details of their strength through hardships, their wives’ names, their kids and how SOAH has worked to make a difference in their lives. 

Their second SOAH recipient, Jordan Folmar, an 82nd Airborne who lost both his legs disarming an IED, had to return to his parents’ home in Garland after his service. With renovations funded by SOAH, including lower countertops, a wheel-chair-height microwave, wider hallways, reconfigured bathrooms and a frameless shower, Mr. Folmar gained back some independence and dignity, and no longer had to crawl through the house because his wheelchair could not fit.

Staff Sergeant Marcus Burleson was the third SOAH recipient in 2014. With the loss of his arms, SOAH worked to modify his home with doors, windows and other devices that could operate based on touch.

“Each person is different,” says Mrs. Turner. “So, how we help them is different based on their specific needs.”

Corporal Brian Aft, USMC, was elated to receive ownership of his bomb dog, but then could not play in the backyard with him, because the grade was too steep for a wheelchair. SOAH enlisted Aquaterra Outdoors, along with donations from its subcontractors, to help redesign the backyard and allow full access.

To aid these veterans, SOAH hosts an annual gala and a Wigged Out Warrior Pub Crawl, in addition to its motorcycle ride.

Last year, Noah Galloway, a double-amputee war veteran who competed on “Dancing with the Stars,” was the keynote speaker at SOAH’s hero-themed gala. The tagline was “Our heroes don’t wear capes … they wear dog tags.” This black-tie event has become the biggest fundraiser, and the next event is planned for September 22, 2018.

If you missed the Wigged Out Warrior Pub Crawl through Denton Square, in March, hold on to your crazy wig and watch for the next one to come around. In the meantime, if you love motorcycles, do not miss the opportunity to participate in the next ride on June 16, 2018. An escorted ride, with a Huey, bagpipes, a barbeque lunch, big flags hanging from ladder trucks and a live band all contribute to one emotional and unforgettable event.

Finally, in honor of veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress (PTS), SOAH is working to implement a PTS Battle Cry on June 27, 2018, where emergency vehicles sound their sirens at noon for 22 seconds to raise awareness for the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day. “PTS is very real,” Mrs. Turner says. “It is the invisible wound.” 

The Turners encourage everyone to get involved in the veteran community and find ways to thank them for their service and your freedom. “It is really an amazing group of people — the veterans in our community. They certainly have a servant’s heart. They served our country and now they are serving our community. They do not back down from anything, and they are going to be there to help and support anyone who needs it. Let them know you appreciate them.”

Amy Richmond is a writer who relishes faith, family, intriguing conversations and inspiring words. She wishes time could be saved in a bottle because one lifetime is not enough.