Dinner With The Troops

By: Lorne Chan Spurs.com

Sergeant Javier Rivera stopped counting the number of surgeries at 55. It only took 18 months after an improvised explosive device blew apart his vehicle in Afghanistan to get to the 55 surgeries, as he has burns on 42 percent of his body and a right hand amputation.

Because of his injuries, Rivera can’t regulate his body temperature and often needs to have air conditioning running in the Texas heat. Unfortunately, the A/C unit in his house is broken.

Enter Wish For Our Heroes, a foundation with the priority of providing for basic needs for soldiers.

On Wednesday, some of the proceeds raised from a dinner at The Grill at Leon Springs will go to a new air conditioner for Rivera.

“People are so awesome and so considerate,” Rivera said. “It means a lot when others help out.”

Wish For Our Heroes began in 2009, when founder Jeff Wells met many soldiers who were struggling with their return from war. The soldiers needed help with basic needs, items ranging from covers items such as food, shelter, medical expenses, child needs, and transportation.

The nonprofit has since given out more than $15 million in assistance to more than 3,000 families, and Wells hopes it might help with military divorce and suicide rates in the process. Wish For Our Heroes accepts donations at wishforourheroes.org.

One foundation supporter is former Air Force Captain and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

“Wish For Our Heroes is one of those wonderful organizations that figures out a way to help people who need it,” Popovich said. “It’s troops who have basic needs, whether it’s a car to get to work, a refrigerator, or fixing a sink. We need to support the families and those who are overseas. This is wonderfully special and a lot more meaningful than pick-and-roll or post defense.”

Popovich served as the night’s maître d’, spending time at every table in the restaurant while former Spurs forward Matt Bonner, broadcaster Andrew Monaco and a group of Wounded Warriors served wine and dishes.

It’s the second year of the event, as Grill at Leon Springs owner/manager Armand Obadia, and chef Thierry Burkle had the idea of hosting an event similar to the San Antonio Food Bank’s annual Champions Against Hunger dinner.

Wednesday’s dinner raised $105,000 for troops, and Wells said all of the money would go to troops in San Antonio.

In addition to Rivera, there was Senior Airman Derek Hughes, whose 5-month-old son was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. Hughes’ family had been living at the Ronald McDonald house in Houston while his son was receiving treatment, and Wish For Our Heroes provided funding for the family to move back home to San Antonio.

And there was a Navy sailor who arrived in San Antonio for cancer treatment without furniture, transportation and with a wife who is nine months pregnant. Wish For Our Heroes is providing furniture for and baby items.

“You expect combat,” said Wells, a former Army Captain. “You might even expect people to be wounded or die. You don’t ever expect the small things that happen back at home.”

Before he was surprised with the air conditioner on Wednesday, Rivera joyfully waited tables with his friends on Wednesday. He joined the Army from Puerto Rico after 9/11 and did a tour in Iraq in 2003 before his second tour in Afghanistan was cut short in 2007.

Rivera is not seeking sympathy. He is married with two kids and is currently studying business management at Wayland Baptist University.

“I’m a very happy guy,” he said. “I have incredible support.”

Rivera and others spent the night breaking bread with Bonner, Popovich and others. Less than 24 hours after facing Russell Westbrook and Oklahoma City and days away from the Rodeo Road Trip, Popovich’s full focus for a night was on the troops he shared a dining room with. All he did was listen.

“Listening to those in the military, their stories are heartfelt and amazing to all of us who have not sacrificed as much as they have,” Popovich said. “What’s amazing to me is the openness and honesty that they have. They don’t want sympathy. They don’t want to hear that ‘we’ll never forget you’ baloney that politicians give them. They want to talk to you. They’ll tell you, ‘I was in that vehicle and the damn thing blew up.’ They’ll tell you exactly what happened, and that’s when it becomes real. You try to imagine yourself in that situation, and you can’t. Special people.”

 

 

If you have a Spurs Story, email Lorne Chan at lchan@attcenter.com

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