Magic, MCW Host Hoops for Troops Commitment to Service Project

by John Denton

ORLANDO – Years ago, when Michael Carter-Williams would visit his grandfather in Massachusetts and ask about a missing finger on his hand, LeRoy Carter would usually make up a story about a lawnmower accident and quickly change the subject.

Carter-Williams learned later in life that his now-late grandfather actually lost that finger and suffered other scars – both physical and mental ones – while serving in the military and fighting in foreign wars. That LeRoy never wanted to recount the horrible visions of death and destruction that he saw during war spoke volumes to young Michael.

Those memories made Carter-Williams’ attendance at the Soldiers’ Angels Domiciliary Dinner at the Orlando VA Medical Center on Tuesday even more important and impactful. Carter-Williams, Magic Community Ambassador Bo Outlaw and other Magic staffers served food and played games of BINGO with some of the 60 former veterans and patients working to heal their bodies and minds at VA Hospital in Lake Nona. Carter-Williams said it was the least he could do to show his appreciation to a group of people who gave so much for the well-being of the United States of America.

``I can relate to (the VA patients) because my grandfather was in the military, and they go over to different places and fight for us and it’s not easy for them,’’ said Carter-Williams, who re-signed with the Magic in July after helping lead the franchise to the playoffs last spring. ``So, to just try and give back to them in whatever way that we can, it’s very important.’’

Carter-Williams’ attendance at the VA Hospital on Tuesday came as part of the NBA Cares ``Hoops for Troops’’ Week (Nov. 7-15). Through the Department of Defense’s ``Commitment to Service’’ initiative, service members and athletes are working together to serve their communities. The program is built upon four pillars: community, leadership, transition and health.

The week began with the Magic’s 16th annual ``Seats for Soldiers Night,’’ presented by L3Harris, with the Magic hosting the Indiana Pacers on Nov. 10. The ``Seats for Soldiers’’ celebration featured a military-themed Fan Fest, in-game honors to thank the military throughout the night and a postgame reception for 40 pre-selected military personnel and their families. The event provided game tickets to more than 1,500 active and retired military personnel and their families courtesy of the Magic, L3Harris and season ticket holders, who donated their seats for the celebration. In addition, the Magic and L3Harris provided three hospitality suites to the game for the military personnel of Central Florida.

``For (veterans) to go and do what they’ve done, it’s brave and honorable and they should be appreciated,’’ Carter-Williams said. ``Anything that I can do, or anyone else of a certain stature that they’d love to see, it’s important to give back and try to make their day. They probably don’t have an easy time (transitioning back to civilian life), so it’s great to do what we can to help.’’

Soldiers’ Angels has done plenty to help while providing support to the country’s deployed service members, wounded heroes and veterans of all generations. With one of the largest volunteer networks in the country, Soldiers’ Angels serves thousands of veterans in VA Medical Centers around the country including the Orlando VA.

Local facilities in Lake Nona (60 beds) and Lake Baldwin (56 beds) provide a variety of treatment services to recovering veterans. Those services include social works, psychology and psychiatric evaluations, peer support, medical treatments, recreation therapy, chaplain availability and dietetic advice, said Domiciliary Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program (DRRTP) manager and supervising psychologist Briget Lanktree.

Michael Williams, a 53-year-old native of Gainesville, shuddered to think where he’d be if he hadn’t stumbled upon the broad-based services offered by the DRRTP had he not been told about it from another recovering veteran. Williams joined the Army in 1987 and served as a medic and with the infantry during three combat tours of duty – Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Iraqi Enduring – in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait. It was during his third tour of duty when he ``caught shrapnel,’’ that injured him both physically and mentally and sent his life into a spiral.

Williams, no relation to the Magic’s standout guard, has spent the past four weeks at the VA in Orlando getting therapeutic, mental and spiritual help for P.T.S.D., substance abuse and combat-stress-related maladies. He said the fighting in the Middle East, ``isn’t a popular war,’’ and he’s glad that ``what’s happening over there isn’t televised, and it shouldn’t be.’’

Williams said the VA Hospital saved him from completely spiraling out of control after he struggled to cope with daily life following so many years of intensive combat duty in the Army.

``I was in a dark place, man, I went to jail, and luckily, I found out about this program through a VA rep, and I said, `Whatever it takes to help me, I want it,’’’ Williams said. ``They kept me from being in the streets, from using (drugs), making bad decisions and having irrational, racing thoughts. Oh man, I’d probably be in jail or dead if it wasn’t for the help I’ve gotten here.’’

Williams said he is still trying to make the transition from combat duty to civilian life – something that is a daily struggle for him considering the almost unthinkable images that he saw while fighting for the U.S. Army.

``I’m trying to put the pieces of my life back together,’’ he admitted. ``I’m just going to make it simple: In the military we train to deal with certain situations, and when you are there, you live a life where death is at your door every day. Your brain just doesn’t react well to seeing somebody blown up or killed or when you get hurt yourself. If you aren’t trained to handle that, you go left really fast. That’s what happened to me, and I did three tours so that (trauma) just stacked up on top of one another. It’s too much and I’m still trying to recover.’’

Kevin Coleman, a native of nearby Titusville, has been a Magic fan since the inception of the franchise in 1989 and still considers Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal to be his favorite all-time athletes. Coleman, an E-4 Corporal in the Marine Corps., served abroad in Europe and Southeast Asia and in the U.S. in Hawaii and Virginia. He said Central Florida’s VA facilities have helped him immensely in making the transition back to civilian life.

``This facility and the programs are outstanding, and it’s helped me save my life,’’ he said. ``The staff here is excellent, and all the psychologists, therapists and counselors have done such a really good job helping me. It’s a very difficult transition because a lot of us in the military, and Marine Corps. and infantry and recon, especially, the jobs that we do don’t translate over to civilian life so it can be a very difficult transition.’’

Kelly Beaver, who was previously an E-5 Corporal in the Navy, said he wouldn’t be the person he is today without the counseling services provided by the VA. Beaver has long been a Magic fan and supporter, and he even worked as a barber for some of the players from the franchise’s original team in 1989. Beaver said the VA has helped make him a better person in so many ways.

``They gave me my life back because before I was dysfunctional in almost aspect,’’ Beaver said. ``The Domiciliary has allowed me to be a grandfather and a father and things I would have never been able to experience. I’m a grown man now thanks to the Domiciliary.’’

Williams, the former Army medic who served three tours of combat duty, said the Magic should be lauded for thinking of the local soldiers and honoring them the way that they have with their ``Hoops for Troops’’ and ``Commitment to Service’’ initiatives. He loves how his favorite NBA franchise is willing to give back to those who gave so much to their country.

``Events like this show that the Magic recognize the sacrifice that the troops have made, and it means that they see that there are more things going on in this community than just basketball,’’ Williams said. ``The Magic are plugged in to their community and they care.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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