Beaufort News

Wounded warriors find appreciation and sanctuary on the links at local fundraiser

The blast from an improvised explosive device entered through his right arm, moved across his chest and exited the left side of his body.

The explosion during Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Pablo Barrios II's fourth tour in Iraq caused numerous internal injuries and claimed 90 percent of his right arm.

Fifteen months and 28 surgeries later, Barrios is practicing his swing on the driving range at Hampton Hall Golf Club in Bluffton. He learned to play left-handed just minutes before the start of the inaugural golf tournament to benefit the Wounded Warrior Foundation of the Lowcountry.

Monday's tournament was the first fundraiser for the local nonprofit organization, an offshoot of the national Wounded Warrior Project. The group helps injured service members as they recover and return to civilian life.

Barrios, stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, said the foundation's efforts show wounded service members are supported and cared for when they come home.

"The United States does not forget its heroes," he said.

Jim Miller, co-chairman of the committee that created the event, said 144 players participated in the sold-out, captain's-choice golf tournament. Fifteen wounded service members played, and the fundraiser included silent and live auctions, entertainment and dinner.

"We could not be more satisfied with this inaugural event," he said.

Miller hopes Monday's event is the first of many to benefit the foundation. He envisions annual golf tournaments, as well as other sporting events, such as marathons or tennis tournaments.

During the opening ceremonies, he told players and volunteers about the important cause they're helping.

"We are living the lifestyle we are living because of guys like these wounded warriors who went out and put it on the line for people like us," he said.

Most of the service members who participated came from the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Stewart, Ga., a unit for soldiers injured in combat or who are coping with mental-health problems caused by trauma. Some said activities such as the golf tournament contribute to their mental healing and distract them from their difficulties.

Trace Simmons, injured in Afghanistan, had never played golf until he arrived at Hampton Hall on Monday morning. But he was excited about the opportunity to try the sport and receive support from the Bluffton community.

"It means a lot to a lot of these soldiers," Simmons said. "It takes your mind away from the negative thinking."