Hundreds come out to honor wounded veterans

Michael McKnight got a little stir crazy hanging out in a hotel room near Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. So when his buddy Benjamin Williams called to invite him to Fort Detrick on Saturday, he jumped at the opportunity to spend a few hours outdoors.

McKnight, who is stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., was one of about 400 people who attended a huge barbecue Saturday to honor wounded veterans and military families at Nallin Farm Pond at Fort Detrick.

“This is a nice event, especially when you’re sitting in those closed-in walls,” McKnight said. He was leaning on a pair of crutches because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, the result of an injury he suffered while deployed in Iraq in 2007, he said. McKnight said he’s been staying in the hotel since June 3 while being treated at Walter Reed for the injury.

“I’m ready to go home,” McKnight said, though he added that the free cup of beer he held, courtesy of Barley and Hops in Frederick, was a nice perk.

Saturday’s Military Family and Wounded and Injured Warriors BBQ was the fourth annual event hosted at Detrick. It was also a chance to celebrate the Army’s 237th birthday, which was Thursday.

The event is the brainchild of Cmdr. David Staten, a public health service officer who has served with both the Navy and Marines, and Scott Barao, executive director of the Maryland Cattlemen’s Association. Staten said Barao asked how his organization could show its appreciation for wounded veterans, and the event was born. The event relies heavily on volunteers and donations.

“We just had a heart to serve soldiers,” Barao said. The association prepared about 1,000 pounds of brisket and 500 pounds of pork, he said.

The Nam Knights, a veterans and law enforcement motorcycle club, escorted buses with about eight wounded veterans and their family members from Bethesda for Saturday’s event, though it was hard to say just how many such veterans were on hand because some drove separately.

“If you have one, just one’s enough as far as we look at it,” Staten said of the wounded service members who attended Saturday.

“They’re my brothers and sisters in arms,” Staten said.

Dean Petrinec brought his three children and his wife, Holly, to the barbecue. He hurt his knee while stationed at Fort Hood, he said, adding that surgery he had did not help. Until recently, he worked as an intensive care unit nurse at Walter Reed but stopped because of his injury. Petrinec lives on post at Detrick and said he hopes to start a foundation someday for soldiers who were injured on the job while stationed in the United States. He said he still deals with guilt because he was supposed to deploy to Afghanistan but could not go because of his knee.

“They have families,” Petrinec said. “They had to leave their families.”

Col. Allan Darden, Detrick garrison commander, was also on hand to make the rounds through the crowd.

“I love it. It’s an awesome event,” Darden said. “What touched me was the amount of volunteers who came out here to do this.”

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