For Jason and Heather Pepper, the
Army was a hometown and a way of life. Heather, a military brat, had lived in Germany
most of her life. Jason, a staff sergeant, had spent the majority of his 10-year
military career there. Their daughter, Naomi, had never lived in the United States.
No one in the family could imagine a different lifestyle.
But that all changed on May 7, 2004. Jason had been deployed to Karbala, Iraq, as
a member of the 16th Armored Engineer Battalion. While on patrol, he and his men
were ambushed in their armored personnel carrier on the outskirts of town. “Bullets
were flying everywhere,” recalls Jason. “I looked up and saw a RPG (rocket-propelled
grenade) being fired at us. I pushed my guys out of the way and it seemed to go
over the top of us. I got up and went to return fire.”
That’s when Jason heard, and felt, the blast.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m dead,’ and then the only thought in my mind was that
I was never going to see Naomi and Heather again.”
And he wouldn’t.
An improvised explosive device in a nearby tree had been command-detonated. Jason
took the brunt of the blast that destroyed his eyes, shattered his right forearm,
and mangled his left hand.
He would receive a Bronze Star with a device for valor for saving the lives of his
men. But his life, as he knew it, was over.
“We knew nothing was ever going to be the same. But we had no idea what was next,”
Heather recalls. “We felt like we were being thrown out to the civilian world and
we weren’t ready.”
After being medically evacuated from Iraq, Jason was sent to Landstuhl, Germany,
and finally to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It was there that the family made
its first contact with DAV.
“If it weren’t for the DAV, we’d feel completely lost,” Heather says. “Our country
needs the DAV to answer questions and help the veterans and families who’ve sacrificed
Through the DAV Charitable Service Trust, Jason can take advantage of rehabilitation
programs based on his specific needs. From transportation to VA medical centers
to therapeutic programs, the DAV will be there to help Jason and other profoundly
injured veterans adjust to new lives.
“Every day is different,” Jason says. “Every day has new situations and a new challenge
to face. I’ve moved six times since my injury – from center to center. I’m learning.
I feel my way around and mentally map things out.”
Jason was medically retired from the Army on January 1, 2006. And now, he says he’s
beginning to “see” a new life taking shape. He and his wife settled into a new property
in Tennessee. They’re planning to buy a few acres and raise horses. “It’s good to
be out of the hospital for a while and to actually be able to make plans. There’s
a lot I want to do. And a lot of things ahead for us,” he says.
For people like Jason, veterans of previous conflicts, their families, and homeless
veterans, the DAV Charitable Service Trust is constantly seeking new and innovative
ways to make a difference.
The Trust has provided more than $58.7 million in support for projects that provide
direct assistance to sick and injured veterans and their families. It invests in
the future by evaluating and addressing the needs of veterans who are leaving the
battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Funds to support the DAV Charitable Service Trust result from the generosity of
donors through workplace campaigns like the Combined Federal Campaign, United Way,
and other workplace giving programs across the country.
“We count on the public’s support to give our veterans the vast array of support
and rehabilitation the Charitable Service Trust offers,” says Richard E. Marbes,
a service-connected amputee and Chairman of the DAV Charitable Service Trust. “We
need their help to give our veterans the vision of hope they’ve earned and deserve.”