Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mike Wahle visits with 'wounded warriors'

December 21, 2007

By WCNC Staff

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- They were welcomed like heroes, but treated like old friends. Mike Wahle and his Panthers teammates immediately understood when they met The Wounded Warriors.

"The first thing that strikes you is their enthusiasm. What an unimportant job I have compared to what they do,” Wahle said.

"What they do" is put their lives on the line in Iraq and the Middle East, where duty is an honor and service comes at a price.

The Wounded Warrior Project uses sports-related outings to pump energy into painful and monotonous recoveries. For many, it’s their first return to a mobility they feared was lost forever. It's exhilarating and thrilling, but none of it overshadows the respect they found in Charlotte.

Marine Staff Sgt. Bobby Moon says, "I wouldn't even call it a sacrifice. When you go to Iraq you know things like this can happen."

For Sgt. Moon, from Dickson, Tenn., "things like this" are IED explosions that claimed all but a sliver of his sight. Others' losses are far more obvious. Mike Wahle and the Panthers never asked and never stared. Instead, they simply took note and listened.

"(We listened) not only the soldiers but their families, and when you saw their families come in and their kids and wives and whatnot, and how attached they were. And how every one of those people spoke of their loved ones,” said Wahle.

Sgt. Moon explained how much it meant to the soldiers.

"It means everything. I had a very nice time sitting down and talking with Mr. Wahle, just about everything. Me, him and Sgt. Bono had a nice time just sitting down,” Moon said.

After that conversation and lunch, the servicemen were welcomed into a Panthers locker-room tradition. "Bin ball" is a staple, but on this day it’s different. Marine Sgt. Edwin Bono took his turn at throwing a ball into a clothing bin in the middle of the locker room from many feet away. His love for motorcycles and dreams of a third tour in Iraq are beyond his grasp, but the energy and the camaraderie of this day deliver every bit as much as a trip down the slopes.

Once the roar died down from winning the "Bin ball" competition, Sgt. Bono learned that shot earned him a spot at the midfield coin toss.

He wasn't able to lead the team onto the field the way he would have liked, but he says, "Those conversations with Mike Wahle and his teammates mean more to one Marine than any ski trip or bike ride ever could. That's an honor. I mean it really was."

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