Col. Michael Steele is a winner in many ways. He was an ROTC kid at playing for the University of Georgia National Championship football team in 1980, and he was coached by the legendary Vince Dooley. After he entered the military, he was tested in many ways. From the Berlin Wall to Mogadishu to Iraq, Mike Steele has served his country well.
The big guy has a passion for returning warriors. Last weekend, he hosted the first annual Faces of Freedom gathering of Wounded Warriors for fun and healing. He enlisted the help of veterans, sports legends and media folks to make this weekend happen.
The jewel of the event was a Celebrity Skeet Shoot with Vince Dooley, former UGA football coach, Tommy Nobis, Hall of Fame Atlanta Falcon Football player, Phil Neikro, Hall of Fame Atlanta Braves pitcher, and many other local and military celebrities. Col. Danny McKnight, Steele’s commander in Somalia, was in tow as the keynote speaker for the weekend’s events. In addition, the 20 or so wounded vets attended Sean Hannity’s Freedom Concert, a Braves baseball game, and a Big and Rich Concert. It was a fun weekend, but the real purpose was to lift up those soldiers and to build a bridge to the Veteran community in civilian life.
On Friday night, it was all fun with an inspiring keynote by Col. McKnight and some rousing dancing that included old soldiers and young soldiers comparing the technology of their artificial limbs. This was a night for laughs and big smiles. And throughout the weekend, the red carpet was rolled out for these young men and their families and caregivers.
On Sunday, the WIAs from Iraq and Afghanistan met with the Vietnam vets from American Legion, Post 201 in Alpharetta, Georgia. Post 201 is the home of the Old Soldiers Parade, an annual event where the town of Alpharetta, Georgia thanks its heroes from every war. A place where “veteran” is an honored term. Only veterans were allowed in this meeting, but I would guess the masks came off, the real stories of war were told and there were tears of understanding from young and old alike.
Mike Steele is the driving force behind this. Col. Steele has taken as his calling the lives of veterans after their service to our country. He is one of the most recognized experts on Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and knows how to spot it and how to help get guys through it. He’s a leader in every way.
Vietnam Navy fighter pilot John McLaughlin said to the attendees, “To outsiders this may look like a free weekend for you, but that is definitely not the case. You are representing hundreds, if not thousands of young men and women whose lives were forever changed in the service of their country. Not only were your lives changed, but all that know and love and depend on you have had to face a new reality.”
What do warriors do after they come home? My father was a returning WWII POW in 1945, and he and his fellow POWs gathered and drank for about 3 months. Some of them drank for much longer. Then they went to work, most of them never talking about what they saw or did during the war.
In Vietnam, we saw the first pictures at our dinner table of the horrors of that war, but very little about the heroism of those warriors. During the 1991 Gulf War, it was somewhat like a movie. All heroes and victory, but there were demons those warriors had to fight, too.
In this war, we have the largest group of severely wounded soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines and they will live out full lives with the consequences of their injuries and what they saw in battle.
Col. Michael Steele will be retiring soon after a long, decorated and sometimes controversial career in the Army. However, he has the heart of a soldier, and he spends much of his free time visiting guys at Walter Reed, Brooks Army Medical and other military hospitals to let them know he understands their pain and will help them live through it. Michael Steele is a survivor also. He survived the streets of Mogadishu and went on to have a successful career in the Army. He led men into battle in Iraq and he helps men and women adjust to their life after being warriors.
His newest endeavor is Faces of Freedom. It is one of the many new organizations to serve returning veterans. Col. Steele’s drive and passion for all out victory doesn’t always mesh with the current culture in the media, the nation’s capitol and some in the paneled offices in the Pentagon. This attitude will set apart Faces of Freedom.
“Veteran” denotes an honored status in this country and people like Michael Steele and the team that put together this weekend for Wounded Warriors will restore that honored status even in the face of an administration that doesn’t understand the warrior.