Wounded Warriors Forever!

Polaris gives back to the three Veterans and the Wounded Warrior Project
WORDS Don McNEILLY // PHOTOGRAPHY Don McNEILLY, Troy Merrifield, Wayne Davis
ImageOn Saturday, Febuary 18, 2012, the day was just like any other day in the surrounding desert of Phoenix, AZ.  The morning air was crisp; the late morning sun created a halo glow around the massive Saguaro cactus that stand at attention as if guarding the majestic Sonaran desert floor. They are a supreme symbol of the American Southwest and for hundreds of years they stand tall in the harshest of environments.  Its ability to adapt through whatever nature dishes out over its lifetime is what makes this living organism gleam in grandeur. Perched high on mountain tops and deep into the valleys, they have seen thousands of people travel by, some enjoy their beauty while others take it for granted. They have survived long before there was a formed United States of America and will continue long after we have lived on this planet for the next generation to admire.  On this day they will get to witness for themselves a great act of kindness that they will carry with them for decades to come.

Polaris Industries with help from Jagged X (a specialty aftermarket custom off-road fabrication company out of Phoenix, AZ) would present an RZR XP 4 900 to three of our war veterans. Polaris designed a contest in conjunction with the Wounded Warriors Project program. The contest would be for any member of the Wounded Warrior Project Alumni program that qualifies. They were requesting an essay to be written by the Veteran explaining what it would mean to them and their family to win a Polaris Ranger RZR XP 4 900, and how their family would enjoy the vehicle. These were not just any Polaris Ranger RZR XP 4 900’s, they were special blacked-out versions they called Phantom 4. Phantom 4 was the code name Polaris used while hyping up the introduction of the new RZR XP 4 900.  These three units could be seen running around the desert and a few spy photos began to surface on the internet.  Jagged X played a big part in helping Polaris service and make over the three RZR XP 4 900’s in the Wounded Warrior theme.

As we arrived on location, Polaris had on site their newly completed fleet trucks sporting special military graphics to set the scene for the event. Front and center of the vehicle were displayed the three Phantom 4’s awaiting their new owners.  All three winners, family members and friends would be arriving from an early morning flight from Washington DC, then bussed to our location.  As we waited for the guests of honor to arrive, we got a chance to get a good close-up look at the extra care Jagged X put into each of the machines to make sure they were ready for each of the three winners. Each of the three machines were themed the same and were very fitting to be given to Military personnel. Along the top of the hood were these words: Duty*Honor*Courage*Commitment*Integrity*Country*Service

For me, it was a blast being able to hang out with team Jagged X as they were setting up everything to make lunch when the winners arrived. They were all very humble and honored to be a part of giving back to the military.  They graciously grilled hamburgers and hotdogs for all attendees, along with all the fixings.  How American is that?

“The greatest casualty is being forgotten”

While looking over Jagged X’s race RZR XP 4 900, I notice the bus had pulled in with our guests of honor from Washington DC.  As they started filing out of the bus, I just happened to notice a big strapping young man helping another young man while exiting the bus.  As I later found out, the young man was William Hampton, one of the winners of the contest. His brother, serviceman Gavin Goodwin, was still having trouble with his injuries so he picked him up and carried him off the bus to his wheel chair.  I have to admit, when I found out who they both were I shed a tear.   It closely represented what the Wounded Warrior logo symbolizes.  Larry Cooke from the Wounded Warrior Project explains it like this: “When a warrior starts his or her journey, they have to be carried.  Then they get to a transition point where they become a warrior carrying another warrior.”

Finally the time we were all waiting for, as Jason Difuccia from Polaris grabbed a microphone to begin the festivities. As he handed over the keys of their new vehicles, there were not many dry eyes in the house. As an added bonus, Polaris Defense surprised each winner by providing $5,000 worth of gear and accessories to outfit their new vehicles. How cool is that?!

As the excitement level peaked, Polaris also presented a check to the Wounded Warrior Project for $33,050 to honor the 1,322 people that entered the contest ($25 for each entrant).

As the Warriors made their way to their vehicle, each had a look on their face that was more than a kid getting his first bike on Christmas Day.  It was much deeper, this meant more than just a material possession. I could only believe that it resembled freedom; freedom for them and their family to enjoy for years to come and a chance for them to continue their healing process.  With the keys transferred to their new owners; Gavin Goodwin, William Hampton and Tammy Persing, it was time to get out on the trail and experience their new RZR XP 4 900’s. Team Jagged X would be leading the group for a short ride in the desert so the new owners could get a feel for their machines.  Each winner eagerly hopped in, ready for the adventure.

While out on the trail, we made a few stops to get out and enjoy the scenery.  It was great to see the warriors, family and friends enjoying what we get to experience on a daily basis.  William’s grinned from ear-to-ear; Tammy’s initial nervousness from her first time driving off-road was replaced by smiles of relief; and Gavin, who rode passenger due to his injuries on his throttle leg, also had a great time.  It was easy to read on his face how much fun he will have when he gets his chance to drive after a few more surgeries.

I am quite sure the ride was not near long enough for most, but we had to head back to the trailer after a couple of hours of seat time. As we were nearing the main road, there was a flag made of white quartz rocks on the hillside. Of course we had to stop to check it out.  Blake Van De Loo explained to the group that Ira Hayes’ mother made the representation of the flag for her son. In case you don’t know Ira Hayes, he was one of five men pictured raising the American flag after a grueling battle at Iwo Jima in 1945.  How fitting for this group to stop and take a moment to honor on all the men and women that have served our great nation.

As I look back on this emotional day, I am thankful for the men and women who fight to keep our Great Nation free.  We are reminded that there is a price for that freedom.  Polaris Industries and Jagged X stepped up to show their appreciation not only with generous donations but for honoring our Military and the Wounded Warrior Project.  On behalf of UTV Off-Road Magazine, we would personally like to thank them.

This entire week has been a roller coaster for me personally. I was at my father’s funeral this week on Tuesday. He was in the Navy on 2 different occasions. The first time was for World War 2 and then again for the Korean War.  At his funeral, the Navy had a ceremony where they gave him his final salute before folding an American flag and presenting it to his sister.

What a fitting end to the week to be able to be part of such a noble cause for our Great Country and those who willingly defend it. I hope you will all take a moment when you see a military person to thank them for their service.

As everyone is packing up to leave, I notice William would not get out of his Phantom 4.  The smile on his face was absolutely priceless. Semper Fi, William.

Polaris Wounded Warrior Project Winners

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