While in Iraq, Chad Pfeifer lost more than a leg, he says.
He lost hope.
But with the support of the Troops First Foundation — a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to service members wounded while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan — he was able to reintegrate into daily life.
“Even the things that seem small, like the moral support, are a huge deal,” said Pfeifer, who served in Iraq from 2006 to 2007. “It’s tough trying to readjust to civilian life, but they’ve been a big supporter of me and my golf career.”
Because of the organization’s support, Pfeifer, 34, recently became the first amputee to compete on the Web.com Tour and dreams of making the PGA Tour, he said.
Pfeifer, a resident of Phoenix, was one of several former military members to participate Friday in the foundation’s third annual golf tournament for amputee and injured service members at the Old Town Club in Winston-Salem. The tournament raised about $200,000.
“Somebody needs to take care of these kids after they come home,” Troops First co-founder David Feherty said. “It’s the greatest honor of my life to be around them; they’re all-stars to me.”
Feherty, a former professional golfer and now a commentator for Golf Channel and CBS Sports, started the foundation in 2007 with his friend Rick Kell after a life-changing visit to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., one of the nation’s largest military medical centers.
“It was one of those rare moments where you’re in the right place at the right time and smart enough to recognize it,” Kell said. “We saw the sacrifices our wounded warriors have made, and we wanted to help them by providing them with services they can’t get anywhere else.”
Kell returned only a few days ago from Kuwait, where he was overseeing Operation Hardwood. The program takes college basketball coaches — such as Dino Gaudio, a former head coach at Wake Forest University — overseas to coach a tournament for deployed troops and help boost morale.
Operation Hardwood is one of the few programs for deployed troops, Kell said. The bulk of the organization’s focus is on wounded soldiers and their families, including relationship building.
One of the organization’s unique services, Operation Proper Exit, allows wounded military members in stable recovery to return to the site where they were injured and witness the progress that troops are making in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Charlotte’s Ben Dellinger, who served in Iraq between 2003 and 2007, was one of more than 110 injured service members who have participated in the overseas trips since the program’s start a few years ago. Dellinger, who returned to Iraq in 2014, lost the lower portion of his left leg while on patrol in Iraq in 2007 when an explosive detonated.
“It was a big deal for me because I got to leave the battlefield on my own terms, instead of on a stretcher,” Dellinger said of the trip. “It’s one thing to hear affirmation from civilians, but to go back and hear it from people who used to be your peers is amazing. I came back feeling much better about myself.”
Another program, Operation Warrior Call, helps military personnel reintegrate into society and stay with their “battle buddies” for support.
“What’s great about this organization is that they have your back, even if you’re just having a bad day and need to talk,” Dellinger said. “They understand. They’re our friends.”
The support the foundation offers can be invaluable, Kell said. Each day, about 22 former soldiers commit suicide in the United States, so the organization strives to help wounded soldiers stay connected with their “battle buddies” and other veterans who can serve as mentors.
The organization recently completed construction of the Leroy Petry Village of Honor, a free transitional housing program in Maryland for wounded service members and their families.
“They’re the 1 percent of the population that raises their hand to volunteer to take care of the rest of us; the least we can do is take care of them,” Kell said. “We owe it to them. They’re our heroes.”