Mickelsons happy to be part of groundswell for U.S. troops
Special to PGATOUR.com
Phil and Amy Mickelson were extremely reluctant. The Rancho Santa Fe Republican Women Federated wanted to salute them for their work on behalf of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation and Homes for Our Troops at its annual fundraising Christmas party. It would be a small gathering, only about 80 people, who certainly weren’t going to besiege them for autographs, and it was being held at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club, just a couple of miles from their home near San Diego.
Still, when they helped the PGA TOUR launch the Birdies for the Brave initiative at the Cialis Western Open on July 4, the Mickelsons made it clear they weren’t doing it for the headlines, only to raise money and awareness for their two pet projects under the Birdies for the Brave umbrella.
But John Gonsalves, the executive director of Homes for Our Troops was coming from Massachusetts. The recipient of one of Gonsalves’ dramatically remodeled homes, Juan Beltran (U.S. Army ret.) was coming from the Los Angeles area. So RSFRWF chairman Pendry Boteler made it clear that the evening would not be a nod to the Mickelsons, but really would be dedicated to their cause. So the Mickelsons went. And they loved it.
Gonsalves, who started Homes for Our Troops two years ago very much on his own, has since found national sponsors to help with his costs and developed a network of community partners to remodel or build 14 homes for severely wounded veterans. A dozen more are in the planning stages. The waiting list is a lot longer than that.
He talked about the home for a soldier who lost both arms, and the sensor he wears around his neck that unlocks and opens the front door as he approaches. About the home with a system of pulleys and tracks that allows a small but devoted wife to easily move her husband, a quadriplegic soldier on a respirator, from bed to bath and back. And another home built as a ranch to replace the two-story structure that kept a wheelchair-bound veteran from entering his children’s bedrooms for two years.
Beltran was in the Army for eight years before he went to flight training school and became an Apache helicopter pilot. Stationed at Camp Speicher, near Tikirt, Iraq, he was on a post-maintenance check run when the helo malfunctioned, went into a tailspin and fell 900 feet into the desert. Beltran is now a quadriplegic, confined to a chair. Homes for Our Troops made his home in Pico Rivera, Calif., wheelchair accessible, adding ramps, widening doors and hallways and installing a fully automatic bathroom.
His spirit infused the women in attendance, many of whom donated to the cause. Several volunteered to stage similar functions at their clubs. One, who owns a jewelry shop in toney Rancho Santa Fe, said she’s regularly invited to join one charitable cause or another, but that after listening to Gonsalves and Beltran her full focus was going to be on Birdies for the Brave. She plans to donate a portion of her sales to the cause and enlist others in supporting it.
The word has spread outward, too. The day after the Mickelsons received their invitation from the RSFRWF in California, Bobby Schafer, a successful custom jewelry designer in Scottsdale, Ariz., set about putting a charity auction page on her website -- www.schaefdesigns.com -- to encourage customers to donate a portion of their purchase price to Birdies for the Brave or simply click on its homepage for more information about its various programs.
“It’s outstanding but not a great surprise that so many people feel these programs are something they want and need to support,” said Mickelson. “Homes for Our Troops and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation can’t bring back loved ones, but they can and do improve the lives of these soldiers and their families.
“I think it was awesome that Frank Lickliter and some other players visited the troops in Iraq over Thanksgiving week. Frank is doing great things with the Wounded Warrior Project and Rory Sabbatini has supported the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. I think we’re all saddened that we have to have these groups but we’re happy we’re able to help them.”
Near the end of the evening, after Gonsalves thanked the Rancho Santa Fe Republic Women Federated and the Mickelsons, Beltran spoke briefly to the group, and with emotion.
“I was pretty banged up when I was in the hospital,” said the former chief warrant officer, “but the nurse called me ‘The Real Deal.’ I just want to say that John Gonsalves and Phil Mickelson are the real deal for what they’re doing on behalf of the troops.”