Sentinels for Freedom: Group Helps Wounded Soldier Move On
Sgt. Tommy Batchelor was just stepping out of his vehicle when the bomb went off.
He never saw the man who blew himself up and exploded the young soldier’s future with the same blast.
Last Friday, thanks to the efforts of local volunteers, Batchelor will have needed help as he leaves the Army to enter civilian life.
As bands played and carolers sang around the village of Pinehurst Christmas tree outside, a different sort of ceremony took place inside Martha and Peyton Gentry’s Re/Max office. Retired Maj. Gen. Sidney Shachnow presented Batchelor with a certificate naming the soldier as the latest injured veteran to receive a life scholarship from the local chapter of Sentinels for Freedom.
Batchelor and his wife, Jennifer, holding their baby daughter, Vanessa, with 5-year-old daughter, Natalie, looking on, shook hands with Shachnow as a crowd of well-wishers cheered and applauded.
“I was injured by that suicide bomb in 2008 in Afghanistan,” Batchelor said. “It was pretty bad for me, but two other soldiers died in the process. I was taken to hospital there, then to Germany.”
His treatment left him with a new ambition: to finish school and become a physician assistant. Now, with help from this four-year scholarship paying the mortgage and other expenses, he will be completing that training at Methodist College in Fayetteville. At the same time, his wife will be able to finish her remaining culinary studies at Sandhills Community College.
“We are gathered today actually for a happy occasion as we award the Moore County Sentinels for Freedom scholarship,” Shachnow said. “This is a local organization. It started with Martha Gentry. Today we are honoring Sgt. Tommy Batchelor, his wife, Jennifer, and their two children.
“Tommy was actually in an organization, Special Operations. He was with what they call psychological operations unit — but he wanted to become a Green Beret. He volunteered for Special Forces, went through a grueling three-plus weeks of assessment and selection. The attrition rate is very high. Sixty percent don’t make it. Sometimes 70 percent don’t make it. He made it through that and started Special Forces training. Unfortu-nately, he was hurt in that.”
Batchelor was told he could enter another Special Forces class once his injury healed. Instead of waiting, he volunteered to go to Afghanistan to work with Special Forces there.
“He deployed, and that’s when he experienced the life-altering experience,” Shachnow said. “He was a victim of a suicide bomber. In Iraq and Afghanistan, very similar, the casualties we have — 62 percent are blast casualties. Of the 62 percent, 80 percent are traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“In Tommy’s case, his problem was the blast destroyed his kidney. His remaining kidney is damaged. He has about 50 shrapnel in his body. He has broken bones. His main problem is very high blood pressure from the kidney problem and needs help in the transition to civilian life. We felt certain he was worthy of a scholarship, and we are honored to present that.”
Shachnow read from the citation designating the Batchelor family as recipients of the Sentinels for Freedom award.
“They are to receive the following goods and services for a period of four years,” Shachnow read. “One, liquidate their credit card debt … pay off his car loan … pay a mortgage house payment (for a maximum of four years) … award Jennifer Batchelor a scholarship at Sandhills Community College for six courses to be started within two years … provide mentoring, if desired, financial advising if desired … and other assistance within our capability …”
Following considerable applause the soldier responded, shaking the general’s hand and thanking the Gentrys and the Moore County Chapter of Sentinels for Freedom.
“I am getting a job just like anybody would transitioning out of the military,” Batchelor said. “This will give me the opportunity to go back to school. In going back to school and becoming a physician assistant, and repay what was given me in the two months I was in the hospital. The care that was given me made me want to be a PA. What better way to repay what I was given than to do that?
“Again, thank you very much for everything that has been presented. I really don’t know what I would do without it. It is just amazing to me that people that I don’t know would be willing to assist me like this. Thank you all. Thank you.”
Shachnow and the Gentrys are among a number of local residents raising money to provide four years’ support helping 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 has become a sort of unofficial headquarters for Sentinels.
It’s all for four-year “life scholarships” that help severely wounded vets like Batchelor put their lives back together to become self-sufficient, working through everyday hardships like finding a home, continuing with education or getting work to support their families.
“I don’t know how to say ‘thank you’ for the help you’ve given us, for the burden that you’ve lifted,” Jennifer Batchelor said. “I know my husband is one of the greatest people. It was heartbreaking, and thank you for helping him, and for helping me go back to school to do what I wanted to do.”
While there is still a national organization of Sentinels for Freedom, and some 50 chapters around the country, this Moore County chapter is the only group that successfully raised its own money for scholarships.
The Batchelors are the fourth family Moore County Sentinels for Freedom has been able to help. Each one — Gentry, Shachnow and the others — credits the rest for that success. So far this group of local volunteers has managed to raise more than $400,000 to help badly wounded veterans overcome the difficulties and deal with challenges as they move into civilian life.
They are the only ones. Nobody else did it, and the national group changed its strategy.
“They couldn’t get people to do local committees like we do,” Peyton Gentry said. “We are the only one. They gave up, and now have a national committee that just goes to big corporations.”
The Moore County difference has been local people.
“We had great people,” Martha Gentry said. “We got Sid. We got Dr. (John) Dempsey, Jim Holshouser. We got all members of our community. Sid, and Arlene his wife, are great fundraisers.”
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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