Joint Base San Antonio, Texas- Tom Whittaker, like many foreign climbers came to the United States to climb our toughest mountains. The Welsh student was well into doing just that when on a isolated road late one night in southern Idaho, he became the victim of a drunk driver's errant ways. After surviving 5 life crisises, in the span of 10 days Whittaker, awoke in a hospital bed to the reality that his fight was long but over; his right leg needed to be amputed at the ankle.
The nonprofit American300, has been bringing individuals like Whittaker to bases all over the world for the past 4 years for one reason: To Increase the Resiliency of US Armed Forces and State Deparment Service Members'. Robi Powers, a veteran from the 80's who went on to work with Olympic Teams created the program and serves as host to the guests wherever they may end up. "We work with individual Commands, Embassies and other DoD agencies to find leaders that want to utilize this; living breathing real life story telling type of presentation" says Powers, " We see the positive impact that our guests have on individuals everywhere we go... the best part is that our guests are simply living examples of the messaging that our leadership is sharing with members on a daily basis."
Up until 2012, American300 had focused it's special guest presentations on overseas remote and combat areas of operation. In the fall of 2011, Powers, was introduced to LtGen. James Kowalski, the commander of Air Force Global Strike Command and the two agreed to work together in bringing mentors to the command's 5 bases. In turn, Powers reached out to his oldest DoD Mentor MajGen Suzanne Vautrinot, commander of the 24th Air Force and asked if the 24thAF could be added to this new domestic offering of American300 Tours. The three agreed to work together and the first ever 'American300 Never Quit Series' was launched. The only problem was that American300 only had 10-15 base visits worth of guests in it's stable of resiliency mentors.
"I started making phone calls and using google to search for interesting candadates" recalls Powers. "It was all about finding people who the service members could relate to while presenting a real life story of resiliency." He admits that for every 50 attempts to land a guest in the program, 49 individuals either failed the vetting process or required large honorariums. "It's a constant battle to find the right guests, but we got lucky and somehow managed to do it."
Tom Whittaker, had no problem passing the vetting process or saying yes to the all volunteer aspect. "After his one legged release from the small hospital in Pocatello, Idaho, the Englishmen found himself nearly destitute. The drunk driver that hit him was under insured, he'd spent his life savings on medical bills and he was working part-time as a shoe salesmen (of all things) with his stump shoved into a padded cigar can. "As word spread of what had happened to me, Amerians that I had met reached out to me in support, people who I didn't even know did the same" recalled Whittaker infront of hundreds of 24th Air Force members "I came to realize that while I would always be a Welshmen, that I was born to be an American... I wanted to be on this team." Years later Whittaker would stand before Queen Elizabeth as an American citizen while receiving one of Britians highest awards for service to the mountaineering and disabled community, as the first human being to summit the world's tallest mountain as a handicapped amputee.
"Tom's story is so dynamic, it's full of tragedy and how he over came... it's real" commented one 24th Air Force enlisted Airmen "that he managed to keep driving forward and broke through so many barriers enroute to the summit of Everest is both inspirational and motivational."
'What Tom Whittaker brings to the table, like all of our special guests is nothing more then a real life example of the coping skills being taught by our senior leaders to our service members on a daily basis. I've stopped more then one of my guests and turned to the audience asking the question: sound familiar? Our DoD Health Professionals have the latest information on how to help our service members over come adversity in their lives and our leadership is passing this information onto our troops every day. All we do at American300 is help reinforce the existing messaging by putting a face on it.' Robi Powers - American300
For more information on American300 visit: www.American300.org
For more information on American300 Volunteer Tom Whittaker: www.tomwhittaker.com
American300 is a 501(c)3 all volunteer nonprofit organization. No federal endorsement of sponsors, guests or nonprofit is ever intended.