Partner SPOTLIGHT: Hero Miles

When Tee It Up for the Troops hosts its REUNION program in Florida each year to reunite service members, over 30 veterans and caregivers need flights to attend. This could be an expensive undertaking, not to mention paying for loved ones to travel there to be at their side. Thankfully, there is a program to help these service members and their families, and an easy way for frequent flyers to offer their support to military families

The Hero Miles program (administered by Fisher House Foundation) provides round-trip airline tickets to wounded, injured, and ill service members – and/or their families or close friends – who are undergoing treatment at a military or VA medical center or who or who are attending an authorized event. Flights are made possible through frequent flyer mile donations made by individual airline passengers of participating airlines, or from donations by citizens. Many recovering service members site reuniting with their fellow combat friends, like at REUNION, as a huge reason to fight hard to recover and never give up. For the Tee It Up for the Troops 2020 REUNION, 35 flights for our warriors and caregivers was made possible by Hero Miles.

“We are proud to partner with Tee It Up for the Troops by providing tickets through our Hero Miles program to help servicemembers heal,” said Dave Coker, President of Fisher House Foundation. “Tee It Up for the Troops shares our belief that a family’s love is good medicine. Their Reunion program brings combat veterans together, which for many servicemembers is an extension of their own family.”

Operation Hero Miles is a collaborative effort between individual airlines including AirTran Airways, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Midwest Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways now merged with America West Airlines; air travel passengers who donate their frequent flyer miles to service members and their families; and the Fisher House Foundation which administers Operation Hero Miles and turns frequent flier mile donations into free airline tickets for military men and women injured due to service in Iraq or Afghanistan, bringing the wounded and their families together.

Hero Miles does amazing work to help veterans and their caregivers in the most challenging of times. On behalf of all of us at Tee It Up for the Troops and the military veterans themselves, we’d like to give a heartfelt thank you to Dave Coker, President, Fisher House Foundation and Tish Stropes, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, Fisher House Foundation and who is responsible for the Hero Miles and Hotels for Heroes programs.

Grant Recipient SPOTLIGHT: Salute Military Golf Association

ParaGolfer instruction and practice.

We are proud to support organizations like The Salute Military Golf Association (SMGA) who are making a difference in the lives of combat veterans!  Similar to Tee It Up for the Troops, the SMGA aims to meld a love of country and love of golf to support the mental and physical rehabilitation programs of veterans. The SMGA’s mission is to provide rehabilitative golf programs, experiences, and family-inclusive golf opportunities for post 9/11 wounded war veterans to help improve the quality of life for these American heroes. Eligible veterans and service members include those wounded or injured in post 9/11 military operations, including those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Tee It Up for the Troops has granted over $100,000 to SMGA to help wounded veterans with their rehabilitation and transition to civilian life by providing golf instruction and golf equipment. Tee It Up for the Troops’ donations to SMGA have been put to good use in the purchase of custom-fitted golf clubs, specialized equipment such as ParaGolfers, and to expand programming beyond their 20 locations. In 2019-2020, SMGA programs will expand to Myrtle Beach, SC; Albany, OR; and Jacksonville, FL.   

Golf instruction at SMGA’s Olney, MD, Flagship Chapter.

“The partnership we share with Tee It Up for the Troops is the SMGA’s longest and dates back to a shared booth at the 2008 PGA Merchandise Show,” said James Winslow, Co-Founder/President, SMGA. “The SMGA could have never expanded beyond its single, original chapter and a handful of veterans without the dedicated support we’ve received from Tee It Up for the Troops over the years. That support has allowed the SMGA to provide programming to more than 3000 veterans and offer more than 2000 post-9/11 veterans custom-fitted golf equipment at no cost.”   

Tee It Up for the Troops recent 2019 grant will be used primarily to support the SMGA American Golfer Program. The American Golfer program affords participation in SMGA to wounded veterans who are not located within proximity to one of the clinic locations and matches post-9/11 wounded warriors with PGA of America professionals familiar with teaching adaptive golf. Through American Golfer, SMGA offers a series of private golf lessons covering all aspects of the game of golf. SMGA provides a custom-fitted set of clubs to any veteran who completes the program.

BETHESDA, MD – JUNE 26: Wounded Warrior Chris Bowers hits a shot on the 17th fairway during the Pro-Am round for the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club on June 26, 2013 in Bethesda, Maryland. (Photo by Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)

Our grant partner, SMGA, also understands the unique needs of veterans returning home from service and have also witnessed first-hand the powerful benefits the game of golf can provide in improving the quality of life of wounded servicemen and women. Thank you SMGA for a great partnership and all you do for our veterans and their families! Together we are making a difference in the lives of combat veterans!

Vietnam War Battle Buddies Reunite After 47 Years

Terry Branham served 26 years of active duty in the U.S. Army and retired as a Colonel and Master Army Aviator. His service included conflicts in Vietnam, the Gulf War and the U.S. Drug War in South America as an Attack Helicopter Pilot. Among his many awards are several medals for valor, including a distinguished flying cross, a bronze star and silver star. This is Retired Colonel Terry Branham’s REUNION story. 

A man, who was like a kindred brother to me, was lost and could not be found.

Let me take you back to June 1970 and how we were separated on the battlefield.  Mike and I were both flying different missions in Cambodia.  Mike was flying an OH-6 LOH aircraft that searched for the enemy and then Cobra attack helicopters would attack the enemy when the OH-6 was taking fire. Mike’s aircraft was struck in a barrage of ground-to-air gunfire and Mike was shot in the right elbow and leg. With an injured leg and an inoperable arm, he was unable to fly the aircraft and the helicopter crashed. Mike and his crew chief survived the crash but once outside the aircraft they were under fire. Somehow, they were able to run to cover and later were rescued by helicopter and whisked back to the base hospital. Mike, running on the leg with a bullet that sheared his femur, caused the femur bone to jam upwards past the break in the bone. I heard of his incident and asked every day to be released to go see him back at our base Cu Chi Hospital. Three days later, I was back from my mission and was able to see Mike at the base hospital. He was in a full-body cast, needed traction, and reconstructive surgery. He was being medically evacuated back to the states and that is the last time I saw Mike for almost five decades.

Over the years, we tried to find each other, however, without the internet, and with a name change for Mike and a military top-secret security clearance for myself, trying to track each other down proved impossible.  It wasn’t until four years ago, through another veteran, that I learned Mike was still alive and I was able to obtain his contact information.

REUNION Program and Long-Awaited Phone Call 

With many Vietnam memories and emotions coming back to the surface, I was finally ready to pick up the phone and contact Mike.  After a few phone conversations, I had an unbelievable opportunity to invite Mike to REUNION, a Tee It Up for the Troops outreach program that reunites combat veterans and helps them heal and work through the hidden wounds of war including anxiety, depression, isolation, and suicide.

REUNION is hosted in a secure and relaxing resort environment, Reunion Resort, in  Kissimmee, Florida. If you are selected to attend REUNION, it is an all-expenses-paid trip including accommodations for you, your combat buddy, spouses or caregivers. Participants not only reconnect with those who are most trusted, they also develop new friendships and support networks to help them heal, transition, grow, and thrive. Mike and I both benefited from therapeutic time talking, participation in a variety of helpful breakout sessions, and playing some golf. Our spouses were able to meet, spend time together and benefited from peer support and educational sessions.

My Reunion with Mike

After not seeing my Vietnam combat brother for 47 years, I felt a wave of emotion when I saw and hugged him again at REUNION.  It’s how I picture heaven and reuniting with family members whom we have not seen for years.

We spent many hours sharing our post-Vietnam life stories which we wished we had been able to share throughout the years.  We reminisced with stories about our shared combat actions and the good things we believed we were doing for our fellow brothers in arms. We shared pictures of our time in combat.  We laughed about the same things that had made us laugh back then – taking away the tears we both shed when we were separated by Mike’s medical evacuation.

I was relieved that Mike had recovered and made a great life for himself. However, I had unresolved issues that hung over me for all those 47 years that aggravated the harsh, negative side effects of war for me.  What could have been different if I were flying with him that day? What would have happened?  I now had answers to the prayers I said for Mike so many times – prayers that he would live the full and happy life that he so deserved. I also had the foundation of a strong new friendship with a person who understood exactly what it meant to put your life on the line in service of your combat brothers and country.

A New Friendship and Inspiration Forged

Before leaving REUNION, Mike and I pledged to honor our friendship by staying in touch and continuing to share our lives and plan more activities together, and we are doing just that.  We go fishing together for a week every summer and talk about all the things brothers talk about.  It has inspired me to finally write about my experiences in Vietnam and all I learned about myself as a man and a warrior. Those long-ago experiences steeled me to be a leader who cared about the men and women I served with as much as I cared about my family.

Warriors make families. Warriors truly know what life is about. We know it isn’t about stuff. It’s about relationships…like those very meaningful relationships at REUNION that get rekindled, help you to heal, and bring new friendships and meaning into your life.


Learn more about REUNION.  Connect and reunite with a fellow combat veteran or to help veterans survive on the home-front and get back on course by sponsoring the event.

Tee It Up for the Troops Named 2019 Top-Rated Nonprofit by GreatNonprofits

Tee It Up for the Troops Named 2019 Top-Rated Nonprofit by GreatNonprofits

Award Based on Outstanding Online Reviews

Tee It Up for the Troops, with their national headquarters in Burnsville, Minn.,  announced today it has been named a “2019 Top-Rated Nonprofit” by GreatNonprofits, the leading provider of user reviews of charities and nonprofits.

Tee It Up for the Troops provides critically needed services to combat veterans and their families and has hosted more than 500 fundraising events in over 40 states over the last 15 years, allowing the non-profit organization to donate over $10 million to veteran service organizations.

“We are honored to be named a Top-Rated 2019 Nonprofit,” says Tim Wegscheid, President & Executive Director for Tee It Up for the Troops. “We are humbled that so many veterans, family members, donors, volunteers and supporters took time to tell others how the Tee It Up for the Troops mission is impacting their lives. This award is incredibly special to us, in this, our 15th anniversary of dedicated service to support all those who serve(d) in the Armed Forces of our great nation.”

The Top-Rated Nonprofit award was based on the large number of positive reviews that Tee It Up for the Troops received – reviews written by volunteers, donors, and military veterans and family member aid recipients. People posted their personal experiences with the nonprofit.

For example, one combat veteran wrote, “After losing my leg in Iraq to a rocket propelled grenade, I needed a goal and direction. Tee It Up for the Troops helped me to set a goal with a sport that I can continue for a lifetime.” Another supporter wrote, “Tee It Up for Troops is in the life changing business!! They are selfless servants of our military community. Always giving of themselves to make other lives better. They have definitely changed our lives!!”

“Savvy donors want to see the impact of their donations more than ever,” said Perla Ni, CEO of GreatNonprofits. “People with direct experience with Tee It Up for the Troops have voted that the organization is making a real difference.”

GreatNonprofits is the leading website where people share stories about their personal experiences on more than 1.6 million charities and nonprofits. The GreatNonprofits Top-Rated Awards are the only awards for nonprofits determined by those who have direct experience with the charities – as donors, volunteers and recipients of aid.

To read about our five star ratings, reviews and add your own review if interested, please visit: https://greatnonprofits.org/org/tee-it-up-for-the-troops-inc

Event SPOTLIGHT: Mendakota Country Club Event – The event that started it all 15 years ago!

Anniversaries are a time to commemorate how we started and celebrate where we are going.

In September of 2005, Tee It Up for the Troops began with one event at Mendakota Country Club in Mendota Heights, Minnesota and started raising funds and awareness for injured veterans in that inaugural year. This year, on the 15th Anniversary of Tee It Up for the Troops and the Mendakota event, more than 60 events will take place which has allowed us to donate over $10,000,000 since inception for critically needed services for veterans.

Tee It Up for the Troops is all about the PEOPLE. The people who launched this organization 15 years ago, the wonderful veterans connected with our mission and the people who continue to commit volunteer time and talent to our charity events. For the Mendakota Country Club event, the person that rallies the troops of enthusiastic volunteers and sponsors is Rick Dale. Passionate, personal and patriotic describe Rick’s committed character.

“My initial involvement to lead one of the golf events was based on our youngest son who was stationed in a very bad place in the northern Helmund Province in Afghanistan,” said Rick. “Once I started meeting other Tee It Up for the Troops volunteers, employees and the veterans we serve, I got more passionate about it. Then I got to meet the leaders and beneficiaries of the organizations we donate funds to and got hooked. I still remember the first time we visited the Minneapolis VA Hospital where the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) houses and counsels formerly homeless veterans. Listening to the many veterans we meet, it’s easy to get passionate about our mission.”

We are fortunate that Rick is a leader and spokesperson for Tee It Up for the Troops. He not only chairs the Mendakota Country Club event, but he also leads the event at Brackett’s Crossing Country Club in Lakeville, MN held in September.

Rick served in the United States Air Force from 1967 to 1971. He is the son of a WWII Army officer, son-in-law of a WWII Naval officer, brother to five veterans that served from the Korean Conflict through the Vietnam War. He and his wife, Sue, are parents of US Marine Corp Staff Sergeant Eric Dale, who is now assigned to the United States Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus.

There are several key long-time volunteers and sponsors at the annual Mendakota event that make this event exceptional each year. One of those volunteers is Sue Bonfe, a Mendakota Golf Club Member, who interfaces with the club, has a strong passion for older veterans and hosted a special Thanksgiving turkey meal for eight WWII vets and ten Korean war vets as a way of thanking them for their service. The laughter and chatter in the room were non-stop and veterans that hadn’t met before shared their experiences and life stories and left talking about next year.

Tyler Ball

“My father was in the Battle of the Bulge during WWII and since he passed away, I found that volunteering at Tee It Up for the Troops is the best way I can honor his life,” said Sue. “Our members have the chance to meet and share their golf course with many of the wonderful veterans who have experienced tremendous physical and mental challenges. By giving time and funds to this event, I get back much, much more than I can even imagine. I know that I am directly helping improve a veteran’s life. I love that such a high percentage of funds (95% I believe) raised goes directly to the deserving veteran organizations.”

Tee It Up for the Troops is an organization conceived by the parents of a soldier. One of the originators of Tee It Up for the Troops shared this comment in celebration of the 15th anniversary:

“In 2005, our son was serving in Iraq.  When we asked him what he needed, his response was ‘Forget about me, do something for those back home.’ That simple request became the genesis of Tee It Up for the Troops.  Fifteen years later we are humbled that the organization is still honoring that request. Initially created with our family and friends, it was soon followed by sponsors, volunteers, and citizens across the country that were moved to honor the mission to serve those who serve.” -Parents of a Soldier

The event that started it all – Mendakota! Fifteen years and countless volunteer hours per year later, with a volunteer board of directors and small staff to oversee a dedicated army of event leaders, volunteers, sponsors and supporters numbering in the hundreds, Tee It Up for the Troops continues to march forward on its mission of  providing critically needed services for combat veterans and their families, one event at a time.

 

Event SPOTLIGHT: Peoria Illinois

Now in its 11th year, Central Illinois Tee It Up for the Troops offers area golfers a day on the golf course to work on their game while helping American military veterans. But this local fundraising tournament in Peoria, IL is about much more than golf: it’s about giving back to those who have given so much to us.

Founded in 2009 by event coordinators Dr. Frank Benningfield and Steve Carver, the Central Illinois Tee It Up for the Troops event is now organized by Bill Kraft, Jeff Kohlbus along with an executive committee of seven members. What makes this tournament unique is the event is played on two courses approximately four miles apart and has both a morning and afternoon session.

Every August, the organization hosts its annual Golf Classic at the Mt. Hawley Country Club and Country Club of Peoria for a day of fun, camaraderie and remembrance. With exclusive access to the green in the morning, military veterans are invited to share their stories with their foursome while enjoying a round of golf. In last summer’s event, 240 military personnel, past and present, golfed in morning free with all expenses paid for by event sponsors, including the title sponsor, Zanfel Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac Wash.

In the afternoon, high school JROTC teams present the colors, a soloist sings the national anthem saluting our fallen heroes, local families memorialize lost loved ones and the public is offered a chance to personally thank the servicemen and women.  Local service club members volunteer as pin holders at both the morning and afternoon sessions. During the afternoon session, another 240 players including sponsors fill up two different golf courses, Mt Hawley Country Club and the Country Club of Peoria. Despite a heat advisory, there was a great turnout and golfers took to the links for a good cause.  The evening festivities host over 700 people.

Central Illinois Tee It Up for the Troops saves the serious golfing for the serious tournaments and they have fun at this event! American Anthem Vodka set up tables at each course and provided samples of their products in Bloody Mary’s and screwdrivers. Local restaurants, including Buffalo Wild Wings and Qdoba set up food stations during the rounds and gave away their products. Every Par-3 on both courses had a hole in one contest featuring either cash or a car and Dixon Golf sponsored a Par-3 Contest where players could win golf balls and receive certificates worth up to $150 in products.

When asked what inspires him to continue leading this event for our military and veteran organizations, Bill Kraft answered “I continue to serve as event coordinator because I believe it is proper to honor and remember those who have served and are currently serving in our Armed Forces. I enjoy the challenges of bringing together 480 golfers in one day at two different courses and the gratitude our veterans show us for putting on this event in Peoria.”

Bill was presented with a “Patriot Award” for his years of commitment, passion and patriotism displayed in the Peoria Illinois Tee It Up for the Troops events.

“The National Office of Tee It Up for the Troops and its staff, is a tremendous resource for us and all of the affiliated events throughout the country and we would like to thank them for the support they provide,” Bill added.

Bill has been an instrumental part of the Central Illinois Tee It Up for the Troops tournament for 10 years. He was asked to oversee the overflow of participants at the first event in 2009 when a second course was added to accommodate the response from the community. He was offered a position on the executive committee the following year and since just keeps looking forward to offering a unique event aimed at honoring our veterans who have served our country to insure the freedoms enjoyed in the United States.

To date, Central Illinois Tee It Up for the Troops has raised nearly $1,000,000 to benefit both national and local organizations committed to serving veterans and their families. The 2018 event alone brought in $50,000. In the Peoria area, proceeds benefit the Goodwill’s Gen. W.A. Downing Shelter for Homeless Vets, South Side Office of Concern Veterans Haven (a second local shelter for homeless veterans) and Fuller Center of Central Illinois (dedicated to helping military veteran homeowners make repairs on their homes). The group also donates a portion of funds to the national Tee It Up for the Troops organization where Disabled Sports USA, Fisher House, Hope for the Warriors, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Warrior Canine Connection among other veteran service organizations receive proceeds.

This year’s golf classic is set to take place on August 26, 2019. For more information visit: www.teeitupforthetroopsil.org or www.teeitupforthetroops.com

Partner Organization SPOTLIGHT: Military Brotherhood Radio

Military Broadcast Radio (MBR) is a non-profit internet radio station (www.MBRadio.us) providing entertainment, information, and support to the military community.  They offer military veterans, active troops, and everyone music of different genres, world news, along with helpful tips of everyday life of a civilian or active military personnel around the world.

Joel Hunt is MBR’s CEO and Show Host of the “H-Train.” As an Army veteran, who was injured during a deployment, Joel has seen his fair share of tough times. His third deployment ended in Baqubah, Iraq after suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and partial leg paralyzation. After returning home, his parents encouraged him to try a military ski camp, specifically for victims of TBIs, as part of his rehab. He ultimately became a US and world ranked adaptive skier and qualified for the World Cup and the Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.  Joel retired from skiing after a neck injury and lives in Denver, Colorado where he’s dedicated to helping fellow veterans through MBR. He has been featured in numerous TV news segments, radio and in magazines across the country, from USA Today to The Hollywood Reporter and The American Genius.

MBR also provides military veterans with information on programs and organizations who give assistance to veteran’s specific needs. The H-Train Show has developed a great resource page () that includes nonprofits that help veterans that is based on evaluation of 990 forms, GuideStar reviews and reviews by veterans themselves.

Joel has coordinated MBR on-air interviews with spokespersons from Tee It Up for the Troops to spread the word of our organization and he is a great supporter and partner with Tee It Up for the Troops.

“I used to make fun of the game of golf because I knew nothing about it. I didn’t realize that golf, like skiing, was an outlet to help me through my mother’s death, channel my anger, help my PTSD and help calm me down,” said Joel. “Tee It Up for the Troops is like my family and it’s an honor to name them as a Title Sponsor on our radio station.”

Thank you, Joel, and the MBR team for sharing our mission over the air waves! We love what you are doing every day to support our veterans!

Listen to see how MBR is giving veterans information on needed programs beyond the VA by live-streaming on www.MBRadio.us.

Tee It Up for the Troops now enrolled in Thrivent Financial’s Choice program!

We are pleased to inform you that Tee It Up for the Troops is now enrolled in Thrivent Choice, a platform for Thrivent members to have a financial impact on the causes and nonprofits they care about. If you or someone you know one are one of Thrivent’s more than 2.3 million members, we would certainly appreciate you choosing to direct Choice Dollars and/or your personal donations to Tee It Up for the Troops!

Together we make a difference!

Learn more about the Thrivent Choice program here.