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Lt. Col. Edwards Receives Gift

By Wendi Winters For The Capital, Annapolis It’s been almost a year since Blountstown’s own Lt. Col. Ty Edwards was wounded in Afghanistan. He remains in Tampa where he is undergoing rehab, but is able to leave the hospital on weekends and spend time at home with his family. He even had the opportunity to make a trip to Annapolis Sept. 12 where he received a gift that will most definitely change his life. Here’s the story, reprinted with permission, from The Capital newspaper. The vast parking lot surrounding Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium was a sea of navy blue and gold, as Naval Academy graduates and midshipmen’s families celebrated before, during and after yesterday’s Navy-Louisiana Tech game. Feasts from simple paper bag picnics to elaborate tented, catered affairs were on display at tailgate parties that dotted the lot like confetti. In the lower end of the lot, beneath a high-flying, helium-filled balloon, the Class of ’74 dedicated its fiesta-themed party to a Marine officer from Florida who was grievously wounded during an ambush in Afghanistan last Oct. 18. In a special post-game ceremony, the officer, Lt. Col. Ty Edwards, 39, was presented with a customized 2010 Toyota Sienna van valued at $50,000. The vehicle had been adapted to safely accommodate the officer, his motorized, 325-pound wheelchair and his young family. The van’s rearview mirror is outfitted with a Bluetooth, GPS and a backup camera. At the touch of a button, a short ramp glides out the right side door. Special devices allow Edwards to lock his chair securely in place without assistance, and the headrests are custom-embroidered with the U.S. flag. In the rear, there’s a drop-down, 10-inch TV with a DVD player for his children, Mason, 8, and Alaina, 6. ”The country should be doing this everywhere,” said Skip Stocknick of Crownsville, vice president of the Class of ’74. “Everyone should be involved, not just former military. This guy sacrificed his future for all of us. He deserves the benevolence of society, not just that of academy grads.” During the firefight in Kunar Province near the Pakistan border, Edwards, an embedded training team commander, was struck in the forehead with an armor-piecing bullet that blew off the top of his head. A local translator shielded Edwards’ body and radioed for help. Navy Corpsman Stephen Albright, of Germantown, and Capt. Sean McQuiston, currently stationed at Quantico, Va., crawled through the hail of bullets and rockets to administer first aid to the unconscious officer. Edwards was airlifted to a military hospital in Germany and then to hospitals in the United States. Though he’s still paralyzed on his right side and faces years of physical therapy, he has come a long way in the past 11 months. During the week, Edwards stays at the Tampa Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center, part of the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Florida, 300 miles from his Blountstown, Fla., hometown. He has been unable to attend his son’s football games or watch his daughter tumble for the Tiny Mites cheerleading team. The new van may change all that. ”This van is great,” said Edwards’ wife, Anna, 34. “It’s beyond description. It means freedom. You don’t realize how restricted he’s been from participating in life.” It was Operation Support Our Troops that stepped in to help Edwards. The group was founded in 2002 by Mary Kay Salomone, an Army wife and mother of two Army officers. Severna Park resident Steven Middleton, a retired Navy commander and president of the Naval Academy’s Class of 1974, is chairman of the nonprofit organization’s Wheels for Warriors program. For the 16th time since April 2006, the group raised $50,000 to purchase, customize and present a new, adaptive van to a veteran wounded in overseas fighting. Edwards is the fourth Marine to receive a van from the organization – and the first officer. ”We get donations from anywhere we can,” Middleton said. “A group in Connecticut does a spin-a-thon every year and gave us $100,000 this year. Kids send change. Some people send $25 every month. The more money we have, the more vans we can give away.” ”It’s a miracle Ty Edwards is here,” said Salomone, who wore Navy colors for the occasion. “An Auburn ROTC graduate in 1992, he’s been on active duty for 17-1/2 years. We felt for all these years of selfless service to our nation, we are honored to give him this van and this special weekend. The van will give his family independence and freedom they haven’t had.” Another nonprofit group, Angel Warrior Flight, flew Edwards, his wife, his children and his father from Florida in a private jet to attend yesterday’s football game and the official post-game presentation of the van in the stadium parking lot. During their whirlwind weekend in Annapolis, the Edwards family was treated to a special 10 a.m. “Pledge of Allegiance” ceremony at Chick & Ruth’s Delly on Friday. Later, the family lunched with the midshipmen and Naval Academy Commandant Capt. Matthew Klunder in King Hall, toured the renovated Naval Academy Museum and visited with friends on campus. ”I feel so honored and humbled by all of this,” Edwards said. “It’s so overwhelming, kind and supportive.” Class of ’74 alumnus Tom Luketich of Severna Park noted: “It’s very emotional and heartwarming. … It’s great there is something we can do to help those veterans.” For more information about Wheels for Warriors and Operation Support Our Troops, e-mail Steven Middleton at stevem@bigplanet.com or visit the Web site at www.west-point.org/family/support-our-troops.

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