Oct. 29, 2012
ByTim Hipps, IMCOM Public Affairs
WASHINGTON — A group of professional athletes served a group of service men and women, wounded warriors, veterans and mothers of fallen heroes at “Salute to the Stars,” a luncheon that honored America’s bravest, Oct. 22, at an upscale steakhouse in the nation’s Capitol.
As part of NBA Cares Week of Service, Washington Wizards players John Wall, Jordan Crawford, Bradley Beal, Emeka Okafor and Shelvin Mack teamed with assistant coach Sam Cassell and former Washington Bullets star Phil Chenier to serve a four-star meal at the J&G Steakhouse inside the cosmopolitan W Hotel. Newscaster Leon Harris, sports broadcaster Chris Miller and Wizards Executive Vice President of Business Operations Greg Bibb also served as celebrity waiters.
“I thought this was awesome, especially just coming home, oh yeah — plus I’m a basketball fan,” said Air Force Tech Sgt. Kathleen Ivey, a native of Trinidad & Tobago who recently returned to Joint Base Andrews, Md., following a five-month deployment at Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany. “And I have supported the Washington Wizards for years now. I date back to loving the team when Michael Jordan owned the team, so this was very uplifting. Just coming home, it was a very nice experience.”
Ivey could not get over “how human” the basketball stars actually are.
“One of them almost dropped the butter in my lap,” she said of Okafor’s delivery. “Nice. They are just as human as we are. But he caught it and it was really stylish. I can see him with a ball.”
Ivey was still reeling from jet lag, but she was not about to miss this opportunity.
“I love the Washington Wizards, so this was excitement for me,” she said. “I am a little tired from the changeover in time zones, but it was nice to get out of bed and be honored for what I do. This was awesome, awesome, awesome.”
The Wizards seemed to enjoy waiting on the troops, some of whom seemed star struck.
“We could do this every day for the rest of our lives and it wouldn’t be enough to pay you back for all you’ve done for us,” Bibb said. “Hopefully, you’ve had a good two hours with us. Enjoy the rest of your desert. And thank you again.”
The NBA team honored several folks who lost loved ones at war:
• Ashley Brown, surviving spouse of Sgt. Jeffrey Brown, who died in a helicopter crash in Iraq in 2006.
• Bonnie Carroll, TAPS founder and surviving spouse of Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, who died in a military plane crash in 1992.
• Jill LaMorie, surviving spouse of Navy Lt. Cdr. Andrew LaMorie, who died in 2007 from a sudden illness while deployed, and their son, Alex LaMorie.
• Ami Neiberger-Miller, TAPS public affairs officer and surviving sister of Spc. Christopher Neiberger, who was killed in action in Iraq in August 2007.
• Jennifer Stratton, surviving spouse of Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Stratton, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2009.
“This was wonderful,” said Kim Young, a retired Army chief warrant officer. “It was nice to see those big-hand men trying to bring out little bitty glasses. It was nice to see the Washington Wizards take time out of their busy day and acknowledge the fact that 1 percent of the entire nation’s population is military. A large percent were here and have made many sacrifices, so it was very nice that they took time out of their day.”
The group included 25 active-duty Air Force medics from Joint Base Andrews; Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C.; Fort Belvoir, Va.; and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
“All of the wounded warriors come into our base and we distribute them out to the area hospitals,” said Melanie Moore, a public affairs officer for the 79th Medical Wing.
The Wizards have vowed to focus on five pillars to maximize their impact on the National Capital Region: education and scholarship, hunger and homelessness, military and veterans affairs, pediatric health and fitness, and youth basketball and hockey.
“I’m humbled that these guys are out here serving us,” said retired Army Lt. Col. Deborah Snyder, founder and president of Operation Renewed Hope Foundation, a program that assists homeless vets. “We’re all a little bit star struck to see it, but it’s great because they’re reaching back to all these veterans that have served and sacrificed, so it’s very good to see.
“It makes me feel proud, both as a citizen, as a civilian, and as a retired Army officer,” Snyder said.