Within a week of sustaining injuries in Iraq and being airlifted to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a Marine diesel mechanic finds himself being taken to Sunday brunch by an Air Force NCO Academy instructor and his family.
Moving slowly with the aid of a cane past intricately organized food displays at the Ramstein Officers’ Club, Cpl. Wayne Lukasik pauses, plate in hand, half-way between a short order line for grilled waffles and a refrigerated buffet of freshly sliced fruit.
***image1***“There’s so much food, I can’t decide where to start,” he said. “This definitely beats the food back in Al Asad.”
As an outpatient at LRMC, Corporal Lukasik received word about an Air Force volunteer organization called “Mission: Just Us” that focuses on boosting morale for wounded service members returning from downrange.
Four days a week, military and civilian personnel from the KMC volunteer their time and privately owned vehicles to provide LRMC outpatients with free transportation to local restaurants and base shopping outlets. On Sundays each week, the recently chartered non-profit organization picks up the tab for brunch at the officers’ club.
Master Sgt. Joel Shepherd, an Air Force instructor who teaches at the nearby Kisling NCO Academy, learned about the organization’s need for volunteers through a local newspaper article and saw it as a unique opportunity to interact with Soldiers and Marines.
Sergeant Shepherd, with his wife Erica and three-year-old daughter Lei Lani, picked up Corporal Lukasic at a dormitory for outpatients. “Listening to Wayne talk about the things happening on the ground in Iraq made the hairs on my arm stand up,” said Sergeant Shepherd.
In between bites of his breakfast, the two-year veteran Marine further described how his deployment foiled his wedding plans and why his subsequent injuries could make simple tasks, like playing ball with his young son, very difficult.
LRMC averages 455 outpatients per month. In 2005, an Air Force senior NCO, upon visiting a friend at Landstuhl hospital, founded the Mission: Just Us organization.
Now, with a dedicated pool of about 80 volunteers − mostly active-duty Airmen, family members and civilians from Ramstein − the non-profit organization recently became chartered, which enables them to conduct fundraisers.
Current president of Mission: Just Us, Staff Sgt. LaKeesha Holmes, said 100 percent of money donated to the organization goes to wounded servicemembers. Because volunteers use their own resources to provide transportation and fund their own meals when dining with patients at local restaurants, there are no administrative costs involved. About 60 outpatients a month accept invitations for the brunch on Sundays.
Sergeant Holmes, from the 435th Materiel Maintenance Squadron, said spending off-duty time to help wounded veterans is addictive. “Once I started volunteering I couldn’t stop,” she said. “They’re just good company to be around.”