Guest Blogger Gary: A Wounded Warrior Athlete Speaks Out

If I had to choose one social media network to love, honor and cherish above the rest, I’d choose you, Facebook. Through your blue and white column-filled pages, I’ve connected on a new level with many My Bella Vita readers, I’ve visited with ex-colleagues from around the world and reconnected with childhood friends.

No matter how much I may detest your *new* homepage, I’ll always love you, Facebook. You brought me back my friends and I thank you for that.

Today’s guest blogger is one of my oldest childhood friends and I was thrilled when we re-friended each other on Facebook. Gary and I grew up together in the bustling metropolis of southeast Texas’ smallest county capital and even co-starred in a 5th grade video production for the Just Say No program.

He shares an interesting-yet disturbing tale of life on the battlefield, auspicious twists of fate and giving to those around us.

I hope you enjoy his post.

First, I would like to thank Cherrye for allowing me to stretch my reach across the mighty Atlantic to what I consider one of the most beautiful countries in our world. Cherrye, I have always known you have a great heart, but for you to allow me to post on your wonderful website in an effort to raise both awareness and funding for my cause speaks volumes for your character. On behalf of the great number of wounded heroes across the world that will benefit from these efforts, thank you so much!

Gary Bartels, Wounded Warrior Project

I had the honor to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point and to serve in the United States Army as an Infantry Officer. During my six years spent in the Army, I attended and graduated from some of the best specialty training schools, including Ranger School, Airborne School and Air Assault School.

Armed with such training, I was proud to serve two combat tours in Iraq from 2003 to 2006. I was first deployed with the 101st Airborne Division as a Rifle Company Platoon Leader during the initial invasion of Iraq, and then again as a Special Advisor to the Iraqi Public Order Brigade.

From my time spent at West Point to my time spent overseas, I have been blessed to work with and lead some of the best Soldiers in the world. Unfortunately, not all of these brave young men returned home with us. Some of those who did make it home are not the same people as when we boarded the plane enroute to combat.

My efforts today are for those people.

Recently, I was accepted as a sponsored athlete for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization that seeks to honor and empower wounded warriors. They strive to raise awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of severely injured service men and women, to help them aid and assist each other and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs.

This program is driven by people like you and me; folks that care more about a greater cause than they do about themselves or those who have experienced combat firsthand-and only by the Grace of God-came back whole.

I never knew how blessed I was until I sat down back in my beautiful hometown of Kountze, Texas and retraced the footsteps of my two tours.

MCFA Christmas Party, Gary Bartels and Family, Wounded Warrior Project

On one occasion I was scheduled to go on patrol in a remote village to conduct intelligence gathering. At the last minute I was replaced with another Officer and assigned another task. That Officer was wounded by an IED on my patrol.

He would never be the same man physically.

Another time, my 12-man Team was scheduled to run a patrol every day for one week to augment the Iraqi Police. I rolled out of the gate every day except Thursday, when mechanical issues interfered. Another Team took our place and on their only patrol that week, was hit by an IED. The Officer in the vehicle, sitting in the exact seat in which I would have been sitting, saw his life flash before his eyes when a softball-sized piece of shrapnel bounced off of the two-inch thick windshield.

He would never be the same man mentally.

On another instance, my Battalion engaged in a 12-hour firefight that left men dead and wounded. Low on water, low on ammunition, but high on morale, we met the challenges of the day-but felt the losses. Having killed or displaced over 250 of Saddam’s Fedayeen Freedom Fighters and losing some of our own as well, those of us who made it out alive were fortunate. Because of those losses-not only of good Soldiers, but of wonderful people-April 5, 2003 will always be a day of sorrow for me. It was the longest day of my life.

I would never be the same man-period.

I’m not telling you these “war stories” to gain recognition. I’m telling you to help you better understand how lucky we are to be walking, running and swimming  each day of our lives.

Gary Bartels, Wounded Warrior Project

I love the fact that I can play with my kids, run with them, wrestle with them and hug them. My heart cries for those young men and women who can longer enjoy the feeling of a warm embrace from their friends, walk through a field of soft, green grass, see the smile of their children on Christmas morning or hear the playing of our National Anthem.

As they have made both the physical and the mental sacrifices, I ask you to find it in your heart to make a sacrifice of your own.

Please visit my website and browse the right-hand links. You will see my personal donation page, as well as other links that are vital to our success. Read through the pages, visit my donation page and look at some of the events in which I plan to partake.

Check back frequently, as I often find more events and add them to my site. If your heart leads you to, please feel free to make a donation. Don’t make the mistake of thinking,“Ah, my $2 won’t matter.” Every single, solitary cent makes a difference to that young man or woman who is waiting for a legislation change to aid his health care … or that last little bit of money needed to send him to advanced rehabilitation … or that Wounded Warrior Backpack full of supplies that awaits as the severely wounded service members arrive at the trauma center.

Every cent counts, folks.

Again, I’d like to thank Cherrye for the opportunity to “speak” to the masses. I also appreciate each of you reading my words and bearing with me. If you have any questions whatsoever, please feel free to contact me at garybartels1975 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Thank you, Gary for sharing your story with us. I hope we can help spread the word about the Wounded Warrior Project … but I’m still not running with you at 4:30 in the morning.

For everyone else, please note the new domain name above and buon weekend!

6 Responses
  1. I know exactly how he feels. My son is serving in the Royal Air Force, and has done a few stints in Iraq..and I am Thankful he came home in one piece and even more Thankful the came home..unlike many of our service men and women..In the UK we have a site called Help for Heroes, where lots of people are doing events to raise money for wounded soldiers.
    Thanks for sharing this link, Anne. I am thankful your son was ok, as well.
    Anne’s last blog post..More Handwritten Post!!!!

  2. Cherrye,

    Once again you have shown your colors and the quality of your character by giving Gary a much needed and deserved forum. Thank you, Gary, for your service to country and your fellow soldiers. We honor them all.

    I mentioned your blog, Cherrye, to a room full of 200 innkeepers at a conference a week or so ago, not realizing that the domain had changed. Oh, dear, I hope they figure it out! Keep up the great work.
    Thanks, Peter. It was an unplanned domain change. I’m sorry you didn’t have teh update in time. I hope they can Google me and find it. Eek!!

  3. I couldn’t get the link for Gary’s website to work – can you list it for me? I’l like to share this information on my own blog too, if that’s okay/
    Thanks for pointing that out. It is working now. The site is I’ve corrected it in the post.
    Barbara’s last blog post..SAN VENANZO IS SAFE!

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