Barbecue for the bravest brings out hero in everyone
Stories like that of Marine Cpl. Todd Nicely make the work going into an annual Frankfort barbecue fundraiser event more than worthwhile, a co-organizer of the event said.
Nicely was left a quadruple amputee by an explosion in Afghanistan. The fundraiser, which is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 8, is aimed at raising $100,000 to build specialized housing for multi-amputee military service members in the United States.
"You look at them and you realize, 'That could be my son; that could be my husband,'" Gayla Smith, president and co-organizer of Midwest BBQ for the Brave, told the Rock Island Today. "We have to care of them."
Smith said she and other organizers are expecting 1,500 or more to turn out for the barbecue, which will run from 6 to 11 p.m. at CD & ME at 23320 S. LaGrange Road. It will be staffed entirely by volunteers.
Most of the donations go to the Building for America's Bravest, a program of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, while smaller amounts fund special requests for veterans with housing needs.
"They're very good stewards of our donation dollars," Smith said. "None of the Board Members of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation take salaries. Just like us, they are people who want to help these veterans."
Nicely, an Arnold, Missouri, native was 26 in 2010 when he led a squad of 12 infantry Marines on a security foot patrol near a bridge in Lakari, Helmand province, in southern Afghanistan.
"It was just a normal, quiet day," Nicely recalls in the YouTube video that also shows off the "smart home" later built for him. "We had a month left before we came back [home]. On the way back to the patrol base, I decided to cross the bridge to get over and across the canal. I went first."
Nicely’s footstep set off a pressure plate on an improvised explosive device.
"The explosion was loud," he said. "I knew at that point that I had been hit."
Nicely was rushed via helicopter to an area military hospital and then to Walter Reed Medical Center Army in Bethesda, Maryland, where he underwent rehabilitation, including relearning how to walk and live with carbon fiber prosthetic limbs.
Nicely received the Silver Star, the Medal of Valor and the Purple Heart.
"They came up to me and said, 'We're going to build you a home,"" Nicely said. "And I was like, 'People really do that?'"
"I'm grateful that someone was able to step up and build me a home like this," Nicely said.
He received the keys to his new home in June 2012. That same year, Smith and her husband, Jim, hosted a backyard barbecue for Building for America’s Bravest, raising $2,000 in what turned out to be the first of an annual event.
"It just kept growing and growing," Smith said.
Very few sponsors and area residents have told her "no," Smith said.
"What we've found is that people want to help," she said. "They call us right back and they ask us, 'What do you need; how can we help?'"
The event is now a 501(c)(3) organization with GoFundMe and Facebook pages. Smith also credited a lot of hard work by the event's board of directors and other volunteers who make it a greater success every year.
"I promise you, it all goes to help our veterans," Smith said. "Many of them would be unable to live independently otherwise. The houses built for them help to make it possible for them to live independently."