By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) Monique K. Hilley
Montel Williams provided lunch for nearly 100 wounded warriors and their families at the Fisher House in Bethesda, Md., Feb. 13.
Service members and their families were treated to a feast of donated baby back ribs, pulled pork and coleslaw, fried fish cooked by Montel's sister, Marjorie, crab cakes made by his father, Herman, a salad and turkey chili prepared by one of Montel's favorite chefs, Claire Winslow, and green fruit smoothies which Montel prepared himself. Two large patriotic cakes were also donated for dessert.
"This started six trips ago, and now this is trip number seven, and by the time we get done, we'll be at trip number 70 or 80 because I'm going to continue to do this; I think it's just a way for us to give back," said Williams. "Why am I doing this? Because I want to stop people from just paying lip service to 'I support the troops' and understand there is something you can do personally to put a smile on a soldier's face."
The luncheon marked the Williams family's seventh trip to provide lunch at Fisher House for wounded warriors, their family members and the guards on the base.
"These family members come down here and they do what we don't do for those who allow us to live with the dignity we do and the freedom we do," said Williams. "These family members don't ask for anything, they barely even ask for help, they don't even know about Fisher House. Most of the time, Fisher House has to reach out to them and say, look, I have a place for you to stay."
Fisher House has provided help, on average, for 17,000 families a year across the nation at 56 Fisher Houses located nationwide. The houses are located near Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals and at all major military medical facilities. The Fisher House in Bethesda has five houses with 72 rooms total.
"We are opening number 57 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage, Alaska on Friday [Feb. 17], one at the end of the month in Salt Lake City at the VA, and one at Ft. Belvoir on the 22nd of May," said Cindy Campbell, Fisher House Foundation, Inc., vice president for Community Relations and Media Affairs.
"So, we're expanding a great deal. We're also building a Fisher House in Birmingham, England to support British wounded warriors at their hospital. It's our chance to reach out to our allies and thank them for their service, as Americans, and to give back to the British soldiers who have served us so well."
Fisher Houses are free of charge for all family members and caregivers to the wounded warriors, not just spouses, parents or siblings. Family members can stay for any length of time needed, whether that is for a week, six months, or a year. Cindy and all members of the Fisher House Foundation, of which Montel Williams is a trustee, are grateful to have him talking about Fisher House and providing lunches for the families.
"This is a chance for us at Fisher House to thank the families for what they're doing because we all forget that when the military member is wounded, we only tend to think about the price of that injury that has to do with the recovery of the wounded, said Campbell. "The other price is the family because you have the entire family that has now taken on this injury. They're the ones who have to get him through this."
One of the families Fisher House is helping is Deborah Elliott and her husband, Marine Capt. Tommy Elliott, an aviation supply officer assigned to Cherry Point, N.C., who was recently diagnosed with Crohn's disease. The Elliotts, who are expecting their son, Oliver, to be delivered at Bethesda within the next 10 days, have been at Fisher House since Dec. 31, 2011, when Capt. Elliott was admitted to the hospital.
"He was in the hospital for two weeks inpatient care, and he's getting outpatient care, so we've been here for six weeks, said Debbie Elliott. "For the treatment they have my husband on, they're still trying to work everything out because it's such a severe disease. He has to be near the hospital because he's on complete digestive rest, so he can't eat at all and is on a feeding tube and nutrition bag. They said no food for another two to three weeks, but the doctors suggest we are in this area for another six months."
For the Elliotts, charities such as Fisher House can become a long-term solution to what may have quickly become a financial crisis brought on by severe health issues and the expenses that can rack up during those times.
"It has been wonderful that we are here and we've been provided with a place to stay," said Debbie Elliott. "It's really nice to have this facility on base, close to the hospital, where we can come and go as we need to his appointments. It's nice knowing that he's getting treatment, and I'll be getting treatment here shortly for the birth of our son."
Montel Williams providing lunch at Fisher House took some guests by surprise. Montel arrived at nine a.m. to begin preparing and cooking the food, with lunch beginning at noon.
"I didn't expect to wake up and go down to get some breakfast and Montel Williams is in there getting ready for lunch," said Debbie Elliott. "It's just wonderful that he is here and that he supports Fisher House. He's got his own history with the military, so he's very connected to this place."
During the lunch, he chatted with many of the families and let them know how much he appreciated them. As a former enlisted Marine and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with 22 years of service, Montel has a connection to those who are currently serving in the military.
"I spent every single day I could trying my best at the time I was on active duty thinking that I was in every hot spot we had," said Williams. "I have a very strong bond with the guys who still are willing to not have to do so because they were forced by draft, they step up to the plate and volunteer to continue to support and defend my democracy? I mean, come on, what else am I supposed to be doing then what I'm doing here?"
Over the course of the last three years, Williams has been visiting the wounded warriors in Bethesda, Md. almost every month.
"I go and I see them and after about a year, I didn't even know Fisher House existed," said Williams. "I was introduced to one of the board members of Fisher House and was shocked that this is an organization that, number one doesn't have as much media attention as it should because these guys are, in my opinion, the No. 1 wounded warrior charity in the country. They are providing free living space for family members while their loved ones recover in the hospital here and in the course of about nine years now, they've given over 180 million dollars in services just to our fallen Soldiers."
Montel Williams, a former talk show host who has prided himself in leading his life in a way that may serve as an example to others, continues to do that through his work with the Fisher House Foundation.
"I think it's just as important to give lip service to it as it is to give heart to it, to give your personal time to it," said Williams. "I can sit on television and say you need to do this, but unless I bring myself down here and try to show by example and do it again and again and again and again, I don't think it makes sense to people. Then, once they start to see stuff like this, maybe they'll start to realize that 'what did I do last week to say thank you for being free?'"
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski