Saturday , March 29, 2014 - 3:58 PM
OGDEN — Cory Fitzwater stood over the huge silver bell at Weber State University’s Stewart Stadium with both a humble and grateful look in his eyes.
Standing before him were dozens of runners lined up in the chilly, windy weather to support him and thousands of other injured soldiers.
After ringing the bell, which signaled the participants it was time to take off on their five-mile run, Fitzwater hugged his wife, Sami, as she wiped away her tears.
“This means a lot,” he said.
Fitzwater was recognized during the Saturday morning Wounded Warrior 8K run. The event, sponsored by WSU’s Army ROTC program, raised money for The Wounded Warrior Project, a national organization established by veterans in 2003. All of the money raised provides assistance, resources and rehabilitative services for injured veterans as they recover from the physical, social and emotional wounds inflicted by war and transition back to civilian life.
“The money we raise here today will go to the wounded warriors from our community,” said retired Col. Jeff Stuart, who organized the run two years ago. “This is a great opportunity to show our gratitude, respect and honor for our fallen and wounded heroes and it’s also a great opportunity for their [descendants] to understand and appreciate those who have gone before them.”
Stuart said he organized the event after being called out of retirement in 2010 to oversee all of the POW and MIA soldiers in Iraq. While there, he was in a vehicle just outside a compound when he saw a big plume of smoke.
“An IED (improvised explosive device) had just gone off and killed two U.S. soldiers,” he said. “We were literally supposed to be at that same location within five minutes. When I returned home I decided it was important for us to get involved with the Wounded Warrior Project so we could help these soldiers and their families and do whatever we could to support them.”
Fitzwater, of Hooper, was a specialist with the 744th engineering company. Deployed in the Kunar Province in Afghanistan, he was in charge of route clearance. He was a victim of nine separate explosions and suffered several traumatic brain injuries. He earned two Purple Hearts before taking medical retirement.
“My unit suffered 40 percent of the casualties,” he said. “We were the first truck in line so we were always the ones hit first. The explosions caused severe concussions. It’s a lot for your brain to handle.”
David Proctor, WSU’s ROTC recruiting operations officer, said unfortunately there will always be a need for organizations like Wounded Warrior.
“Many of these men and women have lost limbs or suffered traumatic brain injuries and need our help. Hosting this race isn’t just about money, it is important because we’re showing our brothers and sisters in the armed forces that Weber State and the community support them,” he said.
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