Here's a baseball story - kind of - that one of my greatest heroes told me about yesterday. It seems that the Washington Nationals, now on top of the National League East standings, have a standing order at each major league home game where they reserve a dozen or more choice seats for America's Wounded Warriors.
A bus full of guys who are missing arms and/or legs at Walter Reed National Military Hospital are brought to each game and given not just a ticket but a special pass to the team’s President’s Club, a swank area right behind home plate. Each pass is worth $325 – it’s printed on each ticket – and not only are our Wounded Warriors treated like royalty, sometimes even better things happen.
“We were at the Braves game,” said Andrew Smith, my hero who had his legs blown off on March 8 in Afghanistan, “and suddenly they took Tori (his wife) and me to this room near the visiting team’s clubhouse. The equipment guy came by and saw us alone and said, ‘They must not know you are already here … hold on a second.’
Within a minute the entire Braves starting line-up swarmed the two kids. “It was absolutely unreal. They were so great,” Andrew said, “and if you’ll look at Chipper Jones’ wrist when he bats, you can see he’s still wearing a ‘Praying for Andrew’ wristband. What’s amazing is that the Nationals set the whole thing up. Chipper was great fun to talk with. He was real interested in how I was doing and real encouraging. It was pretty neat.
“The President’s Club has standard ball-park food but there is also a huge buffet with prime rib, asparagus and anything else you can name. It’s crazy and they won’t let a Wounded Warrior pay a penny,” he said. “They try to get us to come to every game and I guess I’ve been about 10 times already.”
Actually, I wanted to know the same thing Chipper Jones did about Andrew Smith – how he’s doing. A native of Ooltewah, Andrew attended Chattanooga Christian and graduated from Lee University before enlisting in the Army. He and Tori got married two days before Christmas and he deployed to Afghanistan in late December.
Since the explosion that blew away his legs in March, he has nearly died four different times, endured 30 surgeries – 15 to his shredded abdomen – and has known pain so intense it is beyond description. Just don’t mention it to him. “I guess the last seven months have been the greatest in my life,” he said yesterday.
“When I deployed I realized I wouldn’t see Tori for at least 10 months but we’ve been together almost every day. What a gift from God that is. I also think my faith gets greater every day. There has not been one thing that we have prayed for that hasn’t happened! God is undefeated!” he laughed before adding, “ … thank goodness.”
Andrew’s days begin early, working with his new prosthetics and then rigorously exercising afterwards. “It’s a process and you have to be patient. I’m still on a walker but soon I’ll know how to walk up steps and down hills. I watched the guy in the Olympics run on his prosthetics and we all loved that,” he said of his fellow warriors. “Every one of us wants to try that!”
Not long ago Senator John McCain, the famed POW survivor, stopped by. “He told me I needed to gain weight,” Andrew laughed. “He said I should double up at the Golden Arches.” The senator had no way of knowing Andrew’s stomach problems have been so severe he’s just been eating solid foods for a couple of weeks. “He told Tori she needed to exercise, too, and we thought that was hysterical. He was really nice.”
What does the future hold? “I’ll probably be at Walter Reed another year. I’m still in the Army, of course, but they constantly work with us in every way and area you can imagine. The people here take care of everything and there is nothing you can think of that they haven’t thought of already. America should really be proud of how this country treats its Wounded Warriors. It’s very special.
“It’s no big secret that Tori and I want to come back home when we finally get to leave. What the people in Chattanooga have meant to our family is just incredible and I can’t think of ever going anywhere else. Then we’ll just see where the Lord leads us. We put everything in God’s hands and He has been faithful. Everything has a purpose. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”
That's why Andrew Smith is my hero. That's why baseball great Chipper Jones is wearing his "Praying for Andrew" wrist band and that's why the Nationals serve prime rib and asparagus. "Everything has a purpose."