'Writing a New Chapter'
A soldier and an Army dog will restart life together with help from the local chapter of Sentinels for Freedom.
Sgt. 1st Class Mark Vomund, 42, is getting help from a Sentinels for Freedom "life scholarship" that will assist his transition to life as a civilian. He and his wife, Colleen, and their two sons - 10-year-old Shane and 5-year-old Brady - live in Whispering Pines.
The fifth member of the family is Herco, a Holland born and bred German shepherd. The dog and soldier were wounded in the same explosion that brought Vomund his second Purple Heart and ended his career as a Green Beret.
Vomund talked the Army out of following standard operating procedure that would have meant putting Herco down. He adopted his wounded service comrade as a pet.
On Monday night at Re/Max offices in Pinehurst, retired Maj. Gen. Sidney Shachnow presented the Vomunds with a certificate naming the soldier as the latest injured veteran to receive a life scholarship from the local chapter of Sentinels for Freedom.
Vomund, smile never wavering, shook hands with Shachnow as the rest applauded.
"I won't do any dancing, but this is beyond words," Vomund said. "I cannot describe ... how ... generous ... I don't have words for it, but things like this just don't happen. I will make the best of this situation, and I really appreciate your support."
Dr. John Dempsey, president of Sandhills Community College, joined chapter committee members John and Linda Burgess and retired federal prosecutor Tex Griffin at Monday's ceremony with the Gentrys.
Shachnow and Re/Max brokers Martha and Peyton Gentry are among a number of local residents raising money to provide four years of help for those seriously wounded in recent conflicts to re-enter civilian life.
They've been asking everybody they know to help out by giving or pledging money to raise the $100,000 each award costs. Their Re/Max office is a sort of unofficial headquarters for Sentinels. Donations arrive there, sometimes in checks and sometimes in thick bundles of cash raised by concerned Americans.
It's all for four-year "life scholarships" that help severely wounded vets like Vomund put their lives back together to become self-sufficient, working through everyday hardships such as finding a home, continuing their education or getting work to support their families.
"Your work defines you, says who you are," Shachnow said. "You can't just say you 'used to be' - you need an identity."
Shachnow said many wounds that would have been fatal in earlier wars are survivable now - but leave behind veterans with severe disabilities to struggle through a lifetime of suffering.
Vomund stood, tall and slim and smiling, by his wife's side as Shachnow read the commendation that accompanied the Sentinel award. He gave little sign of the severe damage that limits his vision and hampers - to some extent - his speech.
It was the beaming grin on his face that won everybody's heart Monday night.
"Today we are assembled to recognize Mark and Colleen Vomund," Shachnow said. "He is a highly trained Special Forces warrior. He has had multiple tours in combat. He is highly decorated - five Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts."
It was a stellar service career brought short in a single blast.
"Mark had a life-altering experience on 28 March of this year," Shachnow said. "Essentially, Mark was leading an assault force into a suspected enemy camp. He had with him his German shepherd military dog that is dual-trained to attack on command and sniff out explosives for that mission. Then, of course, an IED was set off. I assume it was command-detonated, was it?"
The Army didn't know whether it had been set off automatically or by enemy action.
"It never was determined what detonated it," Vomund said.
It was a large IED, estimated to be somewhere between 50 and 60 pounds.
"Mark was within fairly close proximity to that and sustained injuries, physical injuries, some broken bones, a lot of shrapnel that he still carries with him," Shachnow said. "He had traumatic brain injury that affects his equilibrium, his hearing, headaches - and I probably left some things out that he's struggling with and working through.
"Of course, at the same time, his dog was injured. In June of this year, he was medically retired, and Mark and Colleen decided to adopt him, and they did. He is integrated into the family.
"We are talking about someone who is going through a period of writing a new chapter to his life. It is always a challenging experience. That is the reason for our Sentinels of Freedom program: to help them with this transition. It was the decision of the membership to award Mark and Colleen, their two sons, Brady and Shane, and their dog, Herco, this scholarship."
The award means that, for a period of four years, the Vomunds will receive certain goods and services. The existing Wells Fargo mortgage on their home is paid off. They will get a new vehicle.
"I know that you have a car that that - ah - has seen better days," Shachnow said, to a burst of laughter. "You brought it with you when you were still single, and you've been married 10 years. It has 165,000 miles, so there will be an award of $25,000 to assist in the purchase of a vehicle for the family. I might add that I spoke to Bill Smith yesterday, and if he has something on his lot he is going to give it to you for whatever it cost him."
Professional help from mentors and financial advisers and other help will be available upon request.
"Thank you for your service to this great country," Shachnow said.
Contact John Chappell at email@example.com.
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