Rep Corner: A March to Remember

Edition: February 2011 - Vol 19 Number 02
Article#: 3663
Author: Laura Thill

On any other day, he probably would have complained that his flight was running late, admits Greg Cressman, vice president of sales, PSS western region. But, last May, as he made his way through a busy terminal to catch his flight, a young soldier embracing his wife and son caught his attention. “I travel a lot in my [sales position], and I have seen my fair share of troops coming and going throughout airports across America,” he says. “As a veteran, I have deep love and admiration for our troops and the job they do every day.” But, it wasn’t until this particular day that he was motivated to respond. “I was just outside the security area when I noticed a young family engaged in an emotional group embrace,” he recalls. “This was no ordinary hug. You could see and feel the emotion.

“I remember saying a prayer that this was a homecoming for this soldier – not a tearful goodbye,” he continues. As it turned out, the soldier shared the same flight as Cressman, who was struck by the thought that this serviceman was leaving his family for the next year and a half, not knowing if he would see them again. “It made me realize how much we all take for granted,” says Cressman. “War is about real commitment, real courage, real honor and sometimes real sacrifice, pain and loss. God forbid if one of our troops returns home severely injured. He or she should not have to worry about anything other than getting better and adjusting.”

Indeed, there is an organization with just such a goal. The Wounded Warrior Project, headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla., is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that serves injured service people. The Project’s mission is “to honor and empower wounded warriors who incur service-connected wounds, injuries and illnesses (physical or psychological) on or after Sept. 11, 2001,” according to its website. By targeting recently injured service people rather than all veterans, the Wounded Warrior Project creators provide greater assistance to a smaller group.

At the very least, the Wounded Warrior Project is a good first step toward helping injured service people heal and adjust, says Cressman, who arrived at the idea of rallying his PSS team to join him in a 12-mile road march in full uniform, with 30-pound packs on their back, to honor the wounded American service people. Why this, he asks. “I wanted to do something similar to what our troops do, but I knew there was no event we could create that would come close to replicating what they do on a daily basis,” he explains. Long marches while wearing heavy gear is a big part of military life, he points out. “Nobody likes it, but more often than not, it’s how you get from point A to point B.”

In addition, Cressman was looking for an activity he could do with his sales team. A march struck him as “something that just about anyone could train for and have a pretty good shot at finishing,” he notes. “Road marching with 30 pounds is actually more mentally than physically demanding. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard and it can be painful. However, it doesn’t have the same cardiovascular demands or muscular fatigue that a marathon or triathlon would have. It’s more about having to suck it up and power through broken blisters, aching feet, tired backs and necks – and just putting one foot in front of the other. Ironically, this is exactly how our march played out. Some of our most in-shape guys (e.g., former Ironmen) had to suck it up and, in some cases, march over nine miles with nasty blisters. In the end, thinking about the ultimate sacrifices our soldiers make for us can get us through just about anything.”

Right face

Cressman decided to keep the march small-scale the first year. Twenty-one PSS reps participated, although many more wanted to be involved, he notes. “We had to keep the march small the first year for logistical purposes (e.g., getting boots, uniforms, etc.),” he explains. The six-hour event took place Dec. 9, 2010. “The march route ran through the Ponte Vedra area. We followed a big loop, which entailed starting out with a demanding uphill climb over the Palm Valley Bridge and finishing up 12 miles later by crossing the same demanding bridge. The march took just over four hours to complete, and we stayed true to our pace of 17 ½ minutes per mile, with a couple of breaks built in for snacks and foot care.”

In spite of the cold, damp weather that greeted the marchers, nearly 200 family, friends and colleagues (including PSS CEO Gary Corless and his family) turned out to support them, Cressman says. “We had an after-party at The Bridge Waterfront Bistro, which was at the finish line, and Dan Nevins (executive vice president of the Wounded Warrior Project) was at the finish line and after-party to receive our check. Channel 4 news and the Florida Times Union both covered the event.

“The march was about two things,” he continues. He and his team were looking to increase awareness about the Wounded Warrior Project, as well as raise money for the cause. “We wanted to make sure that everyone with an ear would hear and understand how many sacrifices our soldiers make everyday to protect our freedom,” he points out. “And, the Wounded Warrior Project does not receive any government money. All financial support comes from events similar to ours, as well as private contributions. We began with a pretty aggressive fundraising goal of $21,000, or $1,000 per teammate. After the flood of support and stories from our first e-mail campaigns, we quickly raised the goal to $40,000. At the after-party we presented Dan Nevins with a check for $55,000.”

What’s next?

Immediately following the march, Cressman and his colleagues and team already were brainstorming about how to make the event “bigger and better” in years to come. “At the after-party, Brad Hilton, our chief service officer and a marcher, pulled me aside and said, ‘Now how do we capitalize on the momentum and energy we have created today, and make sure we use it to bring more awareness, support, and fundraising to this awesome cause?’” says Cressman. “We are already working on it!”

Indeed, five days following the event, the marchers were “just getting over their aching muscles and broken blisters,” Cressman says. “But, we are beginning to figure out how we will make this an even bigger event next year.

“The Wounded Warrior Project does an unbelievable job of making sure our warriors see how much we care by sharing the event with them,” he continues. “And, many of the donors have family members serving, and they have shared our efforts with them.

“The event was an unforgettable experience for everyone that participated,” says Cressman. “Especially with the holidays upon us, I think we [were] all more grateful for what we have and dramatically more thankful for the sacrifices our men and women of the Armed Forces make for us every single day.”

Wounded Warrior Marchers

The following PSS World Medical individuals participated in the Wounded Warrior march on Dec. 9, 2010:

  • Greg Cressman

  • Eric Cohen

  • Chris Day

  • Patrick Dunigan

  • Jim Evans

  • Thomas Fitzgerald

  • Mark Haskins

  • Scott Helfrich

  • Brad Hilton

  • Chet Hilton

  • Cliff Ira

  • Jeremy Maron

  • Bob McCart

  • Eric Miller

  • Aaron Novak

  • Tad Peters

  • Anthony Record

  • Darin Sharp

  • Mark Steele

  • Andy Woods

  • Sean Young
One Wounded Warrior

Dan Nevins, executive vice president of the Wounded Warrior Project, met the PSS World Medical team at the completion of its Dec. 9, 2010, march to receive the group’s $55,000 donation to the organization.

Nevins began his military career out of high school as an enlisted paratrooper stationed in Germany. Upon completing his eight-year enlistment, he remained in the California Army National Guard while earning a BS degree in business administration from Sonoma State University in Northern California. Afterward, he joined Pfizer Pharmaceuticals as a sales representative.

In February 2004, Staff Sergeant Nevins was deployed to Balad, Iraq as a member of Task Force Tacoma, where he served as an infantry squad leader. Nine months later, on Nov. 10, 2004, an improvised explosive device detonated beneath the vehicle he rode in. In addition to suffering a traumatic brain injury, his left leg was amputated below the knee, and his right leg was severely damaged, requiring more than 30 surgeries to date. Nevins spent 18 months recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., before relocating to Jacksonville, Fla. with his family.

In April 2008, a recurrent bone infection in Nevins’ necessitated the amputation of his right leg below the knee. Following his surgery, he spent four months in recovery and rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

In May 2008, Nevins was awarded the George C. Lang Award for Courage, the highest award bestowed by Wounded Warrior Project. On March 1, 2009, he joined Wounded Warrior Project as executive vice president of events. Recently, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with two of his fellow wounded warriors