Wounded troops arrive for Warrior's Weekend (video)
May 17, 2013 at 12:17 a.m.
Updated May 18, 2013 at 12:18 a.m.
A smile spread across Alexis Scott's lips as she came face to face with the whooping, cheering crowd. She stepped off the bus and made her way forward limping - but less so than she once did.
"I've never seen anything like what they do here," she said of the flag-lined entrance into Faith Family Church, where she shook hands and accepted hugs along the way. "I've never seen this kind of support."
Scott was among the more than 700 wounded soldiers and their families who made their way out for the kickoff to Victoria's seventh Warrior's Weekend.
The event offers those wounded in the military the chance to enjoy a weekend of fishing and camaraderie with their families and fellow servicemen and women.
This year's Warrior's Weekend is the biggest one yet, said Mike Petrash, director of the event's Field of Honor. Not only did the 700 attendees break previous years' records, but the Field of Honor did as well.
Last year's field boasted 2,176 flags, each sponsored by someone in the name of a veteran. This year's field is already home to 2,400 flags, he said, and another 200 or so will join early next week.
"It's amazing," he said, in between greeting buses of attendees. "The community has really come together. This has really just been a banner year."
Irma Vasquez, her daughters and members of her up-and-coming charitable group, Josie's Joy, lined up near the church entrance in matching flag shirts. Boxes of miniaturized Old Glories - 1,000 total, to hand out to the troops - sat at their side.
Josie's Joy, a group aimed at raising awareness of kidney disease and supporting the troops, took up donations for flags, she said. After Victoria resident Ruben Castaneda purchased 500 for the group, the flag company donated the other half.
Vasquez said it meant a lot to know she could contribute to the troops' big weekend.
Hailey Vasquez, her 16-year-old daughter, agreed.
"We just want to make them smile," she said, clutching a "Thank You Marines" sign and shiny patriotic pinwheel. "We want to show them we support them."
That support was a welcome sight to Orlando Perez, who said his weekend will offer new perspective on life after injury.
"There's no disability that can stop you if you put your mind to it," he said from his wheelchair.
The 38-year-old soldier, stationed on an Army base in Georgia, developed a tumor on his spinal cord. While he can walk somewhat, it's not enough to carry out maneuvers.
He said he looks forward to getting out on the water - he's never been deep-sea fishing - and the chance to relax.
The entrance into Victoria was a bit overwhelming, he admitted, noting he saw more than one driver pull to the side of the road simply to wave as the troops went past.
"It's admirable," he said of both the community and Warrior's Weekend itself. "It lets us know just how lucky we are to be in this country and that our sacrifices were not in vain."
Scott, too, said she appreciates that support.
She served tours with the U.S. Army in Iraq and Kuwait and was injured when she fell from a second-story window. That fall brought on a broken foot and shoulder and shattered two vertebrae, she said. It resulted in numerous surgeries.
When the military told her she could no longer serve, she said she felt lost.
"But here, even though you don't know us, you're showing us you appreciate us and what we've done," she said. "This makes you feel like what you did mattered to somebody."
The buses were running behind schedule because of a late flight arrival in Houston. The soldiers did not have time to walk the field to find the flags bearing their names before reloading onto the buses to head to Port O'Connor for the rest of the weekend.