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Operation Restore Faith | By Thad Mumau

Sometimes it is difficult to describe how much certain acts of kindness mean to someone. For example, a few minutes of long-distance phone calls and a quilt may not sound like much. But the caring behind such gifts is what really counts.

That is just what Staff Sgt. Kenneth Wininger, and others like him, will tell you.

Wininger, a 36-year-old native of Williamstown, Ky., was in his fourth month of deployment in Afghanistan when the Humvee in which he was riding ran over a booby trap in the road, and the ensuing explosion nearly destroyed his right foot.

“For a while, I didn’t know if they could save it,” recalls Wininger, who has served 18 years in the Army National Guard. “Thankfully, I am going to keep my foot, and hopefully, I will walk without a limp one day.”

After undergoing nine surgeries in less than four months, he is able to walk without the use of a cane. And that is a big accomplishment.

“I was in a wheelchair for a while,” Wininger says, “and I got so depressed. I was sitting around at Womack (Army Hospital at Fort Bragg) one day, and I was really down. I was getting mad at everything; I was ready to blow up. About that time, a fellow walked by with a prosthetic leg, and I changed my attitude.”

Following his injury, Wininger was transported by helicopter to Salerno (Afghanistan) and on to Landstuhl, Germany, before coming to Womack. At all three places, he received gifts that included phone cards, underwear, socks, sweat shorts, a T-shirt, blankets and quilts.

“I used the phone cards to call my mother, my wife, Patty, and back to my unit,” he says. “As for the underwear and things, well, it was all I had to wear. I was wearing nothing but my dog tags and wedding ring when I got to Salerno. I just had a sheet wrapped around me.”

A volunteer group called Operation Restore Faith, which is based at Fort Bragg, supplies items given to “Wounded Warriors” at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and at Womack. The group began five years ago and is supported by the Association of the United States Army (AUSA). Operation Restore Faith volunteers meet wounded soldiers as they arrive at Fort Bragg and give them phone cards, bathrobes and flowers. They receive quilts at the hospital.

“None of us are in uniform,” says Jack Cox, vice president for programs of AUSA and the volunteer coordinator of Operation Restore Faith. “We are civilians who just want to show these soldiers that we are behind them, that we care. When those kids come in and see us, it makes them feel good.

“That is what we are trying to convey – that we do care, that we appreciate what these young people are doing. We want them to know they are loved.”

That is exactly what Wininger feels.

“It means so much,” he says. “The quilts, the blankets, the phone cards… all of those things were nice to get, and they were things I could really use. But the main thing is the thought behind those gifts.

“Somebody took the time to make those quilts, and I know that takes a long time to do. Somebody took the time out of their day, and some money out of their pocketbook, to see that I had phone cards, some underwear, a warm quilt and blanket.

“When you think that these folks are doing this without even knowing who is receiving their gifts, that makes it even more special. They are showing soldiers that they care and support us.

“I will always remember this,” Wininger says.

As is always the case, those who do the giving share in the joy.

“I really enjoy being involved with this,” says Cox, 80, a retired Army veteran of 30 years. “These soldiers give so much for all of us, for their country, and it is nice to do a little something for them. They come here all alone, and they appreciate getting hugs and handshakes. We want to show these kids that we know they are human beings, not just numbers in military uniforms. They are special.”

Operation Restore Faith volunteers meet about three airplanes of medical evacuated soldiers each week, receiving more than 20 patients.

“Wounded Warriors” was recognized at the September luncheon meeting of the Braxton Bragg Chapter of AUSA.