by Rachel Singer
“Some people live an entire lifetime and wonder if they have ever made a difference in the world, but the Marines don’t have that problem.” –Ronald Reagan–
I admit it. I am a sap.
I tear up when the underdog wins; I tear up when I witness simple acts of human kindness and I weep when I see television coverage of soldiers being reunited with their families.
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I have a weak spot for our military.
There was an assembly last month at an elementary school in Waco, Texas. The speaker was a comedian. His name was Bobby Henline and when he walked into the room, all chatter ceased and he was greeted with dead silence.
It was not that his comedic material was a flop. Bobby’s appearance has the ability to stop you in your tracks.
SSgt Henline suffered debilitating and disfiguring injuries three years ago when on routine patrol in Iraq. The lead Humvee he was driving in was hit by an IED and exploded. The Humvee became an inferno with flames burning indiscriminately through skin and metal.
Fire devoured 38% of Bobby’s skin, leaving his skull visible.
His left hand was yet another casualty.
What the fire left intact was Bobby Henline’s dynamic personality and wicked sense of humor.
Like President Ronald Reagan, joking with the surgical staff that he hoped they were all Republicans after he was shot, Bobby was most concerned that he didn’t cry like a girl while he was on fire.
It is immediately apparent that enduring 42 surgeries in three years has not dampened his spirit or wit. “The comedy is not only healing for me, but at the same time it’s getting awareness out there,” he explained.
While Bobby was fighting overseas for our country, there was another soldier manning the front lines. The two did not know each other, nor would they meet until horrifying events would bring them together.
In 2006, Luana Schneider sent her boy Scott off to war. She worried like any mother would. She anticipated his return.
Luana received a telephone call informing her that Scott was on his way home.
It was not going to be the homecoming celebration she had imagined. The only rejoicing Luana would do was to celebrate the miracle that her son was still alive.
Sgt. Scott Stephenson was returning from Iraq with internal injuries, no left leg, and severe burns over 66% of his body. All of this added up to a small chance of survival.
It is impossible to gauge how any one person will react to life-altering situations. Some fall into a depression, some become angry, some get stronger. Coping mechanisms are innately personal.
Luana drew her line in the sand. She was going to become a soldier of one in Scott’s Army and now she would fight for her son.
This mother and son experienced a myriad of conflicting emotions ranging from elation when Scott would have a good day to anger when people would stare at him and look away in horror.
Luana Schneider had a simple wish, “We have a generation of severely wounded and disfigured warriors retuning to public life. We need to educate the public on how to treat and talk to these warriors to avoid the pain and humiliation some of them can feel from our communities.”
“Tempered Steel~The Stories Behind the Scars, Uniting Wounded Warriors With the Public Through Dialogue,” began as Luana’s wish. It is now the vehicle driving forward her message of compassion and understanding through storytelling and photography. (Temperedsteelinc.org)
Last year, I wrote a Hometown Story on Santa Clarita resident, Micaela Bensko, a first class photographer, wife and mom of four. Her mother, Maggie Lockridge, founded “Iraq Star,” a non-profit foundation that raises funds to provide desperately needed reconstructive surgery to soldiers wounded in battle. Micaela joined as VP of Iraq Star “after she fell head over heels for the soldiers.”
Luana’s son, Scott Stephenson became a member of the Iraq Star family in December 2007. This past June, one of the esteemed Iraq Star doctors provided the necessary surgery needed to help repair his nose.
Micaela Bensko’s devotion to help mend broken soldiers and Luana Schneider’s passion to mend the public’s perception of them have merged into a heartbreaking yet beautiful photographic tribute that will make you proud to be an American.
Micaela has flown around the country, capturing the vivid beauty and reality of our wounded American heroes, while Luana and “Tempered Steel” have documented their stories with the poignant and moving words of journalist Amanda Cherry-Haus.
On Veterans Day, Thursday, November 11, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley will be unveiling the culmination of their efforts; “The Tempered Steel Photo Introspective, Honoring the Wounds of War.”
The Tempered Steel exhibit is open to the public and is appropriate for all ages. Admission to the library on Veterans Day is free and there will be events throughout the day to honor our country’s veterans.
This photo introspective is the first awareness project of Tempered Steel. Their primary goal is that each of the featured soldiers is not just a subject for the exhibit, but an actual Tempered Steel Ambassador. These proud men will visit schools, organizations and companies, sharing their stories of survival, recovery and acceptance.
The Veterans Day festivities at the Reagan Library start at 10:00 a.m. The official speakers and presentation begins at 11:00 a.m.
A featured speaker that day will be Tempered Steel’s own motivational speaker and comedian, SSgt. Robert (Bobby) Henline. A true patriot, he will at once make you laugh, make you look deeper and leave you quietly awed. The student body of Valencia High School will be privileged to hear Sgt. Henline speak at their campus on November 10.
Please spread the word through the Santa Clarita Valley to join us on Veterans Day at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library (40 Presidential Way, Simi Valley, 93065) and honor these great Americans.
I promise that when you leave the exhibit, the images you will have seen, the warriors you will have met and the stories you will hear, will remain with you.
November 11, 2010 is the time to pay homage to our Veterans and those serving in the military today that forfeit family and comfort to protect each of us.
“Steel becomes stronger after it is tempered. It is the only thing to be quenched in fire and come out stronger than before…just like our wounded warriors.” Luana Schneider