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‘We owe this to these guys’

NICOLE FORMOSAsummit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY – U.S. Army Sgt. Mike Meinen was riding inside an armored vehicle on Aug. 25, 2003, when a rocket ripped through the truck and tore into his right leg.Meinen was five months into his assignment in Iraq when he and his company were ambushed between Fallujah and Ramada. The Colorado Springs resident was oblivious to his injury and stood back up to continue fighting.”I noticed I had a hard time getting up,” Meinen recalled. “My squad leader laid me down, and I grabbed the bandage to try to keep the wound closed.”Meinen was taken to Baghdad, then to Germany and eventually to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., for surgery to amputate his right leg above the knee.Battle stories from soldiers like Meinen are an inspiration for Keystone resident Dan Goodale, who heads up the West Coast division of IMPACT players, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the quality of life of disabled veterans returning from war.”I’ve taken on this one thing I want to do in life to give back,” Goodale said.

A big part of its program revolves around setting up veterans with professional athletes, media personalities and Hollywood celebrities.IMPACT founder Dick Lynch tapped Goodale because he has been organizing celebrity golf tournaments for years and has contacts with many personalities veterans request to meet.To date, Goodale has set up several arrangements, such as those with former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, professional bullrider Mike Lee and Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan.Earlier this month, Goodale was able to secure tickets for a Denver Broncos game for Meinen and Cprl. Brian Wilhelm, also of Fort Carson. Meinen jumped at the opportunity.”I’d wanted to go to a Denver game, but it’s really hard to get tickets half the time, so I thought I’d give it a try,” he said.He and Wilhelm were on the sidelines when the Broncos beat the Indianapolis Colts 33-14 on Jan. 2.But the victory wasn’t the only part of the day that hit home for Meinen.

“Getting introduced to the crowd really got the old adrenaline going,” Meinen said. “It’s pretty amazing to hear that many people cheering for you.”Afterward, the Broncos welcomed Meinen and Wilhelm into the locker room, where they were introduced to the entire lineup, including quarterback Jake Plummer, runningback Reuben Droughns and coach Mike Shanahan.Meinen even got to take home autographed jerseys from Champ Bailey and John Lynch.”It was like I was six again,” Meinen said. “Running around meeting all these pros you’d watched for years.”

Aside from helping veterans attend special events, like the Broncos game, IMPACT finds athletes or celebrities who are willing to enter a relationship with the war heroes that goes beyond the sidelines.”We don’t want an athlete who just comes in, shakes their hand and says hi,” Goodale said.He said he’s had better luck with former athletes because they have more time on their hands, but said Jake Plummer has agreed to sit down and talk about the program because of his close relationship with Pat Tillman.Tillman played football for the Arizona Cardinals before he decided to join the Army in 2002. He was killed in Afghanistan by friendly-fire in April 2004.Tillman and Plummer were teammates for seven years prior to their respective professional careers.IMPACT, which depends heavily on donations, also provides money to dismembered veterans after they arrive back home.”Everyday costs can be dramatic,” Goodale said.For example, the government provides veterans with one prosthetic after their injury, but they may need another, especially if they participate in athletics.

IMPACT also arranges for the purchase of specially equipped vehicles so veterans can continue driving after their injury.Goodale, who had no prior experience working with war veterans and doesn’t know anyone currently stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan, now spends most of his time concentrating on IMPACT.”All of a sudden, it took my heart, once I met the guys,” Goodale said.The organization is in its infancy, having only been started six months ago, but Goodale would like to see it grow to the point where there is a group established in every state.”By no means is this charity. We owe this to these guys,” he said.Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or at nformosa@summitdaily.com.


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