National Ability Center fundraiser highlights veterans | ParkRecord.com

National Ability Center fundraiser highlights veterans

It's lunchtime on Wednesday and the National Ability Center is hosting its annual Saluting Our Heroes fundraiser in Salt Lake City. Ever since the nonprofit's founding, it has been tied to military service. CEO Gail Barille said the first grant the organization received was to help veterans, and the NAC has since helped the military community get back into the outdoors after injuries.

Beneath the broad and opulent chandeliers at the Grand American Hotel, tables were intricately arranged with silverware — set for a salad, entrée and desert. Veterans and active members of the military had gathered to support the NAC and talk about how important the organization has been in many of their lives.

Brigadier General David B. Béen of the United States Air Force (retired), took the stage to recognize everyone in the room who has served.

He asked that those who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria between 2010 and the present to stand, and a good number of people did. From the conflicts between 2000 and 2010, he asked that those involved with Iraq and Afghanistan stand. Veterans from the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia and other operations in the 1990s also stood. From the 1980's, he listed Operation Just Cause in Panama, as well as Libya and the Persian Gulf. As the events got farther back in time, fewer people stood, but those that did celebrated with more enthusiasm. There were only a handful of veterans of Vietnam and the Korean War, but their sense of accomplishment for representing those that couldn't be there was palpable.

Finally, Béen asked the World War II veterans to stand, and two people in the room stood up to the sound of applause.

That list was the reason the NAC can serve 1,200 veterans a year and still say they have more work to do.

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CEO Gail Barille, herself the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, told the crowd that families are still falling through the gaps, and silently struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. She talked about the people that are still "sitting on the sidelines when others are out pushing their limits."

Case in point: Edward "Flip" Klein, a retired Army major who enlisted in 2000. He was commissioned as an infantry officer in 2006, and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. In October 2012, Klein was injured by an improvised explosive device while on a patrol with his unit, and lost both legs above the knee, his right arm above the elbow and three fingers from his remaining hand.

Klein wheeled on stage, joined by his dog, and spoke with emcee Charles Dahlquist.

"Being injured is tough," Klein said. "The way to build faith in yourself is to challenge yourself, and what better way to challenge yourself than with sports and the outdoors."

Klein became involved with the NAC through a nonprofit called Team Semper Fi, which fosters recovery through sport.

"It was formative," he said of his first experiences with skiing after his injury. "It gave me something after my injury that felt like skiing, not another adaptive thing."

He said through the NAC's programs, he has found ways to stay active and regain some of the camaraderie that he felt in the military.

"I was out in August and after only knowing a guy for three days he said, 'Hey, when you are finishing up this move give me a call and I will give you help with the moving truck,'" Klein said. "That's a guy I knew for three days. You don't develop those kinds of relationships in real life."

He concluded his talk by saying veterans must stick together, even if society at large loses focus on ongoing and upcoming wars.

When asked about that comment in a subsequent interview he said society had not yet forgotten about veterans.

"I'm not saying they have," he said. "I say they are forgetting; it's an active process."

But despite the massive outpouring still untallied by the NAC from its fundraiser, Klein insisted the most important help comes from one veteran to another.

"How can we ask the population to remember us if as veterans we don't take care of ourselves internally?" he said.

And with that, he laid out his skiing itinerary: Park City, Telluride, Vail, Breckenridge and Whistler.

"Hopefully I can get some good turns in this year," he said. "I mean, it's all I do."