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To fully grasp the good work they do, there’s no need to search for awards or plaques on a wall – it’s all in the smiles.

The young boy who lost his father in service to his country, but discovered a love for Quarter Midget racing, and a mentor to share the hobby with. The amputee who thought he’d never hunt but shot his first deer. The veteran who was wounded in Afghanistan and never received a proper welcome home until he arrived in Huntsville for Heroes Week.

Members of the Semper Fi Community Task Force don’t do it for the recognition – but the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition decided they deserved the limelight when they awarded the nonprofit with the Veteran Organization of the Year award for 2018. While the group is most known for its annual outreach, Heroes Week, which brings in wounded veterans from across the country for a week of relaxation and recognition, the good that Semper Fi members do goes far beyond that.

“As a committee, we talked about all these years that they’ve been doing that, and how they have grown as an organization and are doing more and more in the community,” Beverly Lowe, NAVFOC president, said. “We felt like that needed to have a spotlight on it. People need to know all that they do.”

In addition to Heroes Week, year-round Semper Fi hosts wounded veterans and their families in areas across the country, from Destin, Florida, to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for hunting and fishing trips as part of its Heroes Outdoor Adventures Outreach, spearheaded by Steve Statler. Oftentimes Statler will issue the invite to one veteran and let them reach out to their comrades to complete the trip’s roster, allowing for it to turn into a reunion of sorts.

All too often Statler will hear the wounded heroes say, “I can’t do that.” For the Semper Fi volunteers, that’s a challenge and rallying cry to prove that they, in fact, can – and will. Each trip is specially planned and outfitted to accommodate whatever the participants’ disabilities may be. The group will even go so far as to not allow anyone to hunt or walk the area prior to the trip, so that the veterans have the best possible chance of going home with some game.

“Being out in nature is very therapeutic to the veterans,” Statler said. “At the end of the day they come back, and I just sit back as they intermingle with each other and talk about their deployments and their injuries. You find out that some of them thought they’d never be able to hunt, but they can.

“The bottom line – if you look at any of our pictures, the smile tells the story.”

Semper Fi volunteers also reach out to Gold Star families, those who have lost loved ones while in service to their country, by organizing a fishing derby for Gold Star children, as well as sponsoring the Semper Fi Community Task Force Racing (Semper Fi Racing) Team, which allows the kids to become involved in Quarter Midget racing. The outreach is a way of not only saying thank you, but also that the community continues to care and is there for them.

While named for the Marine Corps motto, the Task Force knows no bounds on its generosity. The group also provides outreach for veterans and service members – for instance, when a service member was moving cross-country and needed new tires but did not have the means to purchase them, they did – as well as support for deployed units, and the community as a whole. The nonprofit’s mission is to “lend support to meet existing and emerging needs of the local community through volunteering time and talent” with a focus on “the Tennessee Valley community, military veterans of all services and their families,” as well as to “honor and support citizens who protect our country.” Youth mentoring will “be an increased area of attention,” according to Dave Bonwit, who heads up the SFCTF. The organization was founded in 2006.

“When we first got started, it was a conscious decision not to try and upstage anybody in this community, because there are lot of people that are doing really good work. We wanted to fall in on what they were doing, to support them, reinforce them, and meet a need that might not have been identified. We’re looking for more needs that need to be identified,” Bonwit said.

The group is honored by the Veteran Organization of the Year award.

“What’s humbling to me is this was an award presented by other veterans and fraternal organizations – that’s your peers,” said Steve Mozian, who was the lead for Heroes Week this year. “That’s what makes it really significant, is it was our peers, and because we fly below the radar most of the time, somebody took note.”

“We’ve just been working away, head down, doing what we do,” Bonwit said. “It’s not about us. It’s about the people that we’re helping. It’s not about what we do inside, the organization, it’s about what we do for people outside.

“We’re humbled by it. We’re honored by it. It’s a credit to the people who make us who we are. It’s a credit to the volunteers of the organization and I daresay it’s a credit to the community, because of their outpouring of support.”

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