SPECIAL FORCES INVADE READING
In a commemorative program hosted by GM Racing and the National Hot Rod Association on Saturday, a group of 19 retired veterans from the Army Special Forces Association, Randall Shughart Chapter 64, based in nearby Carlisle, Pa., took center stage at the 23rd annual Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
Throughout the year, SFA Randall Shughart Chapter 64 members visit U.S. combat-wounded troops at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany bringing words of hope and good cheer, as well as souvenir gift bags with items donated by NHRA teams and sponsors. They also conduct fund-raising events to purchase telephone cards, clothing items and duffle bags for use by wounded/injured personnel at Landstuhl, traveling to LRMC via SpaceA on U.S. Air Force aircraft to distribute the items. Earlier this year monies were raised by SFA Chapter 64 at the NHRA event in Englishtown, N.J., by auctioning off a racing helmet autographed by more than 40 NHRA drivers.
For the past two years, members from SFA Chapter 64 have served as the advance team and on-site organizers for "Operation Support Our Wounded," a postseason visit with American troops in Germany by NHRA goodwill ambassadors Warren Johnson, Jim Yates, Melanie Troxel, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Cory McClenathan. The drivers are currently scheduled to return the weekend following this season’s Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif., but on Saturday, GM Racing and the NHRA wanted to give a little something back to this special group of Green Berets and say, "Thank you, for a job well done."
"These Special Forces personnel from Chapter 64 bravely served their country while on active duty, and they continue to serve with their dedicated support of our troops who are in harm’s way today," said Fred Simmonds, GM’s drag racing marketing manager. "They are to be commended for their service to America, and the least that we can do is to recognize them for all they’ve accomplished.”
During heroic service to their country which took each of them to the far corners of the globe in times of conflict, the 19 Special Forces veterans saluted during Saturday's ceremony served a total of 371 years on active duty, were engaged in combat for 411 months and made a total of 5,158 parachute jumps. Their long list of awards and decorations include: three Army Commendation Medals, four Army Commendation Medals with "V" device for valor in combat, 12 Air Medals, nine Meritorious Service Medals, 17 Purple Hearts, four Bronze Stars, 11 Bronze Star Medals with "V" device for valor in combat, five Silver Stars, six Legions of Merit and three Distinguished Service Medals.
The retired veterans started their honorary day in the pit area of Top Fuel driver Melanie Troxel and team sponsor Evan Knoll, owner/president of Torco Racing Fuels. Over the course of this year's 23-event POWERade tour, multi-car team owner and sponsor Knoll has paid tribute to military war veterans by displaying a special paint scheme dedicated to POWs and MIAs on Troxel's dragster. The SFA group and Troxel were then joined by Cory McClenathan, Tommy Johnson Jr., Jim Yates and Warren Johnson for autographs and photos.
"There's more to life than just winning or losing a round," said Troxel as she spoke to members from SFA 64. "Our work with the vets this year has helped me realize there are bigger things in life, and the personal sacrifices by individuals like yourselves has helped me keep things in perspective. We get to do what we love for a living because of what you have done, and I want to thank you."
The SFA Chapter 64 members were then shuttled down to the starting line for a special presentation by GM Racing and the NHRA in front of the Maple Grove Raceway tower just prior to the start of round three of Professional qualifying. After the presentation, the Green Berets rode in Pontiac G6 convertibles on a parade lap down the Maple Grove quarter-mile and were cheered on by a packed grandstand of appreciative race fans and admirers.
Additional guests joining the Chapter members on Saturday included Mark Phillips, vice president, communications of the USO. The USO is a non-profit organization whose sole function is to promote the welfare and boost morale of American troops, and for the past two years, they have provided airline tickets for the NHRA contingent of drivers who have visited the combat-wounded troops in Germany.
"The partnership between the USO and GM Racing for the last two years has been tremendous," said Phillips. "It's all about filling a need when you see it and supporting the troops. The work that Fred (Simmonds) and the group from SFA 64 has done to get the drivers over to Landstuhl has been outstanding."
A luncheon in the Cagnazzi Racing hospitality area for the SFA Chapter 64 members featured a meal prepared by Jegs Racing executive chef Nicky Morse and a meet-and-greet with team drivers Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Dave Connolly. GM Racing provided gift bags for each guest, and then it was off to enjoy the final day of qualifying at Maple Grove Raceway.
"We've been looking forward to this for a long time," said Chapter President Ken Roberts. "It was very nice for GM Racing and NHRA to do this – it feels like a real welcome home. From all the Special Forces veterans with us today and all those that serve, we thank you very much."
Watch Video: GM Racing and NHRA Recognize SFA Chapter 64 (Part 1) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6S_vLnZjUU
Watch Video: GM Racing and NHRA Recognize SFA Chapter 64 (Part 2) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K34YuiWEDU4
Watch Video: GM Racing and NHRA Recognize SFA Chapter 64 (Part 3) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAIwZwtG42Q