Pre-race activities for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 featured an emotional patriotic theme previewing Veterans Day on Nov. 11.
Ret. U.S. Army Major Ed Pulido was joined by U.S. Marine Corps veteran Mark “Oz” Geist for a news conference leading into the 14th annual Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series fall race at Texas Motor Speedway.
“Major Ed,” who lost his left leg in 2004 from a roadside bomb during warfare, served as Grand Marshal for the 334-lap/501-miler that is the second of three Round of 8 Playoff races. Geist, a 12-year veteran of the Marines, buckled-up into a Chevrolet Camaro as Honorary Pace Car Driver.
Pulido is senior vice president of the Folds of Honor Foundation, a founding member of the Warriors for Freedom Foundation, founder of Warrior Nation and an award-winning author of his autobiography, “Warrior for Freedom: Challenge, Triumph and Change.”
“I always say freedom is not free,” said Pulido, a recipient of the Bronze Medal with Valor and Purple Heart. “My father once told me that when you take the oath of office to defend the greatest nation in the world it’s always been about God, country, family and all those who serve in the Armed Forces of the United States of America, providing freedom for the American people.
“It was in that spirit that for me, one night in 2004, when I hit a roadside bomb … it was the most challenging day of my life. But as I tell people it was also the best day of my life. Look where I’m at today, look what I’m doing. More importantly, look at what we’re doing for military families. At Folds of Honor we give scholarships to families of the fallen, wounded and disabled – 21,000 scholarships, about $110-million raised. Our motto is ‘Honoring the Sacrifice, Educating the Legacy.’ We want to make sure that no family gets left behind on the field of battle.”
It was in that spirit that Pulido handed out a pair of statues to NASCAR team co-owner Tony Stewart and Marissa Chaney, director of Speedway Children’s Charities. Pulido cited both for inviting a pair of military veterans to participate in the “Smoke Show” fantasy camp conducted at TMS on Oct. 11. The program gives participants the opportunity to experience a full-day in the life of a NASCAR driver, including laps around the 1.5-mile oval and a one-on-one session seated alongside Stewart at full-speed.
Texas Motor Speedway worked with Folds of Honor to identify Russell Brevick of nearby Argyle, Texas, and Kris Morgan of Oklahoma City, Okla. Both were disabled while serving the nation.
Brevick was a captain in the U.S. Air Force before medically retiring in 2013. He served on the General’s staff as a missions analyst and wartime plans during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He also served as a military training officer and led 95 cadets through the four-year program to fulfill their commissions.
Morgan also served in the Air Force before his military career was cut short due to serious injuries sustained during Operation Desert Shield in 1997. He now spends a majority of his time assisting local non-profits and has a passion for building wooden American flags that he gives to veterans across the country.
Pulido said each Freedom Warrior statue “stands tall for freedom and it stands tall for this nation.” Pulido noted that Morgan at one point had considered suicide in the wake of his injuries.
“We took him by the hand and said, ‘We’ve got to work together,’ ” Pulido said. “When a veteran comes up to you and says, ‘You’ve saved my life,’ it doesn’t get any better. And that’s why we do what we do on the charitable front, to inspire and motivate and make sure that no veteran gets left behind on the field of battle.”
Stewart said his 11th annual fantasy camp was special because of the veterans taking part. “And one of the gentlemen you mentioned, I have the flag he gave me,” said Stewart, a three-time Cup champion who retired after the 2016 season. “Actually we found a spot in the basement of my house where the pool table and everything is. He has 10 hours in each of those wood flags. He told me every step he does with it, the stars and stuff. He said it’s been a huge help for him.
“We think we’re pretty tough and the guys that get in these cars all tell you, you think we’re pretty tough to do this. These guys are the ones that are tough. They make us look like candy-asses, and we are in comparison to what they go through in comparison to society here. But it’s because of you guys that we get to have events like this on Sundays and we get to have the freedom to come out here … and idiots like me have the freedom to say stupid things and most of the time get away with it. We owe you guys. We should be giving you guys awards non-stop.”
Geist and his wife started the Shadow Warriors Project while he was still in a hospital bed recovering from injuries suffered while serving as a member of the Annex Security Team that fought the Battle of Benghazi, Libya, from Sept. 11 to Sept. 12, 2012. Geist was credited with helping save the lives of more than 25 Americans during the attack. He also is co-author of the best-selling book, “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi.”
“I was a private security contractor in Benghazi,” Geist said. “Since 2001, there’s been approximately 5,000 contractors killed in eight different countries in the War on Terror. These are the people that are serving behind the lines that we don’t get those numbers in the reports of the military that are killed in the last 20 years of war now. Most of them are veterans, most of them have served as veterans and came into the contract world. But there’s no family support services or anything like that.
“We decided that after going through what we did and the struggles we had as a family to not have that happen again. So we started this foundation that helps families and the soldiers or sailors or Marines or airmen that have become contractors should they get injured or killed.”
Geist also is fronting a project designed to make sure veterans register to vote. “Going back to 2016 and the (presidential) election, approximately 17 percent of the veterans in this country aren’t even registered to vote,” Geist said. “There’s 23-million veterans in this country _ 17 percent of them aren’t registered. We want to know how to fix veterans issues, well, veterans fixing veterans issues.
“We’re doing a fund-raising campaign to raise money to get veterans registered to vote, make sure they get out there and vote. It’s non-partisan. To me, it’s a veterans voice, doesn’t matter which side of the aisle it’s on. It’s about taking care of veterans. Like I said, there’s 23-million of them; two to three family members vote the same way as that veteran. We’re talking about a voting block of 60-million people. I think we could get the VA (Veterans Administration) system fixed if we had a consolidated voice.”
TMS PR/TMS Photo