Wounded military and disabled veterans find adventure at home

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Maybe it’s a taste of home. Maybe it’s a venture out of the house to spend a day fishing or golfing. Maybe it’s a chance to ramp up the adrenaline with a ride in a speeding race car.

Whatever the request, the volunteers of Operation North State work their connections and pull in resources — and more volunteers — to make it happen for hundreds of deployed military personnel, wounded warriors and disabled veterans, aka DVets, residing throughout North Carolina.

When Cheryl Herrick of Clayton joined the volunteer corps led by ONS founder and retired banking executive Terry Snyder of Winston-Salem, the connection added autocross racing to the nonprofit’s 18 programs.

“I give Terry a lot of credit for being willing to take the leap of faith with me on this program,” Herrick said. “We had a desire to help veterans through racing in common.”

The program gave Army veteran Barney Blanks of Walkertown his first ride in a race car.

“It was a rush that day. A full-blast, full-steam-ahead day. Heart racing the whole time,” Blanks said. “I don’t know how to explain that. It was unexplainable.”

That’s a reaction that Herrick, from a military family, recalled from previous experiences with veterans and one she hoped to create with her own event. Part of a Detroit racing family dubbed the “Michigan Mafia” and owner of a multifaceted business called Ponytail Racing LLC, Herrick got support from the Sparkjoy Foundation, found space at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Virginia, and partnered with the Tarheel Sports Car Club.

Now, one event with Snyder has expanded to Racing for Warriors, which has a third event planned for December.

“It’s safe and private and controlled … a fun day for veterans and their families,” Herrick said.

The rides come in 1960s and ’70s muscle cars and more recent makes brought by car club members, volunteers and Herrick’s friends and family from as far as Michigan and Maryland. The thrill left Blanks looking forward to his next adventure.

“You get to meet new people or see people you played golf with or fished with,” he said. “… You make bonds with people.”

His bonds include fishermen in eight Top Shelf Fishin’ Festival events held statewide. This fall’s events at Jordan Lake, New Bern, Oak Island and Morehead City were canceled because of the hurricanes. But dozens of boaters and wounded warriors/DVets are still hitting the water in response to Snyder’s appeal for one-on-one outings.

“It’s well worth the little bit of effort we put into it to take these folks,” said boater and frequent volunteer Kevin Klingel of Chapel Hill, who helps coordinate meals at host churches for the Jordan Lake and Morehead City events.

ONS vets also play golf, and Snyder calls on connections from his amateur golf days. Senior golfers at TPC Wakefield Plantation in Wake Forest stepped up to help add Foursomes for Heroes to Operation North State offerings, said James Weathers, a Wakefield member.

“The golf is more individual. It’s not a big event. It’s one at a time,” Weathers said, adding efforts are being made to include other area clubs also owned by McConnell Golf, such as Treyburn in Durham, Raleigh Country Club and Brook Valley in Greenville.

Snyder takes pride in securing funding before ONS projects begin. In the month before 150 volunteers for the ninth year were to pack 1,500 NCCARES Christmas boxes for troops deployed out of North Carolina, he was raising $28,000 for postage.

“If people want to make a financial donation, we always need some help with the shipping,” he said. The last boxes will be mailed Dec. 13.

“It means a lot to get that package with your name on it,” said Charlie Smith, who was an Army combat engineer in Vietnam and spent more than 25 years as head of Veterans Affairs for North Carolina. “That package has items you’re familiar with. They might not be deployed in a war zone, but they’re away from home. … We get pictures where they’ve sent a picture of the box being opened.”

The boxes contain around 30 items, such as socks and toiletries but mainly N.C products from Mount Olive Pickles to Bojangle’s seasonings and a T-shirt given by racing icon Richard Petty, said Smith, a busy ONS volunteer since he retired in 2011.

“I’m not a veteran,” Snyder said. “I did this whole thing thinking as a citizen we can do better for our veterans. That’s what blows vets’ minds. ... But I’m happy to say so many of our volunteers are like myself. And it is the right thing to do.”

Operation North State

151 Windemere Court

Winston-Salem, NC 27127


Contact: Terry Snyder 336-406-3459 or snydert33@gmail.com

Teri Boggess @BoggessT teri.boggess@gmail.com