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Patty Kleban: Uncle Sam Wants You

by on May 28, 2012 6:00 AM

Today is Memorial Day, a day set aside to recognize the efforts of those who have served our country and who have made the ultimate sacrifice. 

People across the nation will visit cemeteries and memorials, and celebrate with parades and picnics. To our servicemen and women who are away from their families and away from home, we also celebrate in honor of you. To those who have served and who have returned to our communities, some with injuries and with scars that aren’t always visible, we are grateful for your service. 

On Sept. 14, our local community will celebrate the efforts of our wounded warriors with the first “Montgomery Open” in support of Salute Military Golf Association.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Estes, PGA golf professional and co-founder of the Salute Military Golf Association, through several trainings we provided for golf professionals on inclusive services to customers with disabilities.

Jim is a former PGA Tour player who is now a teaching pro at Olney Golf Park in Maryland. Jim and the team at SMGA have been leaders in the movement to provide access to golf as a tool for rehabilitation and re-integration into society for those who have been injured in the line of duty. His energy, expertise and matter-of-fact approach to working with wounded warriors is awe inspiring.

I’ve spent a lot of my professional career working with people who work with people with disabilities and I can tell you, Jim Estes is the real deal.

Jim started the Salute Military Golf Association to welcome injured warriors to the game of golf and as a way to address the isolation and depression that can accompany devastating injuries such as amputations, head trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Jim’s training as a teaching pro and his background in kinesiology have made him an expert in adapting the game of golf so that even those with the most debilitating injuries can get on the golf course, play the game and improve their quality of life. 

The motto of Salute Military Golf Association (SMGA) is “Empowering our Nation’s Heroes, One Fairway at a Time.” 

The tournament is named in honor of former Bellefonte football standout, Denis Montgomery, who was integral in the initial effort to start a chapter of SMGA in Happy Valley. The tournament, to be held on the Friday morning before the PSU-Navy game at the PSU golf courses, is open to the public and will include ROTC students from Penn State, a military color guard, and the opportunity to play golf with wounded warriors.  

Proceeds from the event will provide trainings, equipment and greens fees for those wounded in service to our country. 

Retired Colonel Gerald Russell, highly decorated Marine, and veteran of the invasion of Iwo Jima, has agreed to be Honorary Co-Chair. Former Navy Seal and recently elected Penn State Trustee, Captain Ryan McCombie has joined the effort as Co-Chair. 

The goal for this year’s event is $60,000. SMGA estimates that an 8-week clinic, including golfer instruction, meals and time on the golf course for 15 veterans costs approximately $9,000.  The benefits of improved quality of life, mentoring and the support network are priceless.

Al Pringle, Senior Vice President of Keystone Real Estate Group in State College has stepped up to be the Tournament Director.

Keystone Real Estate Group has committed resources to help launch the tournament; Keystone founder Bruce Heim is a West Point graduate and Viet Nam vet. Sons John and Ben Heim and son-in-law Fred Egerer have all served their country in the military. 

Building on the military theme, businesses as well as individuals can support these initial efforts through sponsorship level as an Enlisted Member ($250) up to Admiral/Colonel sponsorship ($5,000 and the opportunity to golf with a wounded warrior).   

Food vendors for the “mess tent,” raffle and prize sponsors, and volunteers are still needed for the tournament.  For more information, contact Jackie Golas at smgasc@gmail.com or visit the website at www.smgasc.org.

Salute Military Golf Association has helped soldiers like Charles Eggleston, Commander for the Military Order of the Purple Heart for the State of Maryland. Charles is a wounded warrior who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom( OEF). Charles underwent 3½ years of treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Awarded both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, Staff Sergeant Eggleston met Jim Estes when Jim was recruiting new participants for the golf program at Walter Reed and has become not only an incredible golfer but an ambassador for programs like SMGA that support wounded veterans. 

When I met Charles, I was moved not only by his  dedication to service for our country but also by his sacrifices which are not always obvious behind his easy going style and sense of humor.     

When you watch Staff Sergeant Eggleston swing a golf club, your perceptions of “handicap” will change. He, and the other warriors like him, are truly American heroes. 

I’m excited to be a part of the committee that is working to support SMGA and wounded warriors, not only in Centre County but across our nation. For this first year, we’ve set reasonable goals but hope to make this one of the top local golf events. Please plan to join us on Sept. 14.

One Fairway at a Time.

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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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