Women’s GOP hears from vets’ group

Published 9:31 am Friday, February 12, 2016

Matt Cole, a co-chair for the second Wounded War Heroes Banquet, appeared before the Washington Parish Republican Women’s club Wednesday to encourage them — and the general public — to attend the charity event.

Cole, who is himself paralyzed due to an attack in Iraq in 2003, told the group that the Wounded War Heroes group helped him come to terms with himself after he returned to Louisiana, following his time in the Marine Corps.

“When I came home, I continued physical therapy and finished a culinary arts associates’ degree and tried to work in the restaurant industry again but that didn’t work out,” he said. “It wasn’t suited for someone in a wheelchair.”

Around the time he began to realize his career wouldn’t work, he said his marriage began to crumble and he began sleeping until noon.

“Depression was taking me over,” he said.

Then, Cole said, the Wounded War Heroes group invited him on a turkey hunt. During the hunt, he wasn’t allowed to sleep late, and he was with other wounded veterans.

“For me, it was an a-ha moment, a coming-to-Jesus moment,” he said. “I began to think, what am I doing with my life? Where is it going?

“Talking around the campfire with the guys, it turned out that many of us deal with the same issues. … What it was, was, it wasn’t only a wonderful hunting experience but it’s therapy to be out in nature and to be around with others who are dealing with the exact same thing as you are.”

Cole said the trip turned his life around, restored his marriage and gave him hope for the future.

These days, Cole works for the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, and he and his wife have three children. But he’s not forgotten the Wounded War Heroes group.

“My life has just been blessed and I attribute it to the organization, getting me out of the house,” he said.

Now that the organization needs public support, he is volunteering to organize a charity banquet. Cole explained that the group began with the support of oil and gas companies from around Louisiana. Unlike the better-known national group, the Wounded Warrior Project, the Wounded War Heroes was established as a nonprofit to mainly benefit veterans in Louisiana and south Mississippi. The organization was formally declared a nonprofit in 2011, but in the last two years, the oil and gas industry have been contributing less to the group as oil and gas revenues have declined.

“So, being that we all enjoyed wildlife, we decided we needed to do a fundraiser other than our big fishing rodeo, so we organized a wildlife banquet,” Cole said.

This year’s event will take place at the Castine Center in Mandeville on Friday, June 17. Cole is currently seeking sponsorships. An events sponsorship is $5,000, a banquet sponsorship is $3,000 and a table sponsorship is $1,000. A ticket is $50.

At the Washington Parish Republic Women’s lunch, Joannie Miller, the group’s president, presented Cole with a check for $1,000.

“Y’all are our first sponsors of the year,” he said.

Cole said anyone who is or knows a disabled veteran is encouraged to join the Wounded War Heroes group for an outing.

“If you are or know a veteran who has at least a 30 percent military disability rating or VA disability rating then they meet our criteria for a wounded warrior and well be happy to show them a good time,” he said. “Whether it be a physical wound or a mental wound, we want to get folks into the great outdoors and giving them fantastic opportunities.”

To find out more about the group, visit online at www.woundedwarheroes.org.