It’s not often that the Bethesda community interacts with the injured combat veterans behind the gates at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, despite the facility’s move to Bethesda three years ago.
A D.C.-based wounded warrior nonprofit wants to help change that with the help of a group of local businesses and the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce.
The event will feature a family friendly 1.5-mile walk from the Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, past Naval Support Activity Bethesda (where Walter Reed is located), through downtown Bethesda and ending at a community block party at Euro Motorcars Bethesda (7020 Arlington Rd.).
Luke’s Wings raises money for plane tickets and travel expenses for relatives of wounded warriors, many who must come long distances to visit loved ones requiring medical attention at Walter Reed.
“I feel like the number one goal is to get people out and to have families that live in Bethesda walk next to wounded warriors who live at Walter Reed,” said Emily Neufeld, director of corporate sponsorship for Luke’s Wings. “Next to that, we really want to rally these businesses around Walter Reed and get more people in Bethesda involved with the wounded warrior community that also calls Bethesda home.”
Registration costs $15 for children and $30 for adults. Jen Magerer, who communicates with families and helps books plane tickets with a travel agent, said Luke’s Wings has provided almost 2,000 flights since its inception in 2008 and 1,400 flights over the past two years.
The U.S. military provides just three flights at the inception of someone’s stay at Walter Reed, which proves difficult for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have been in Bethesda for three years or longer — dating back to Walter Reed’s previous location.
The average cost of a flight is $500. Luke’s Wings can also accept Delta SkyMiles donations of 1,000 miles or more.
Magerer and a small staff at the nonprofit work to set up flights for loved ones to visit on birthdays or major events. The group doesn’t limit the number of passengers and strives to meet all requests. Luke’s Wings also provides travel expenses for wounded warriors to visit family and in 2011 expanded to provide transportation for relatives of veterans in hospice care. Most are veterans from World War II the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
The group was founded by Luke Shirley, an Iraq War veteran who lost an arm and a leg in an IED blast, and Sarah Wingfield, a former Washington Redskins cheerleader who met Shirley while visiting troops in 2007.
The nonprofit is expecting about 300 people to participate in the walk, followed by the block party at Arlington Road and Bethesda Row.