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Army Staff Sgt. Chaz Allen, wounded by an IED on Jan. 22, 2011, discusses his injuries with Amanda Downes, social secretary of the British Embassy, while riding aboard the USS Sequoia on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., on October 22, 2011. (Photo: Michael Kulik)

 

British Embassy, USO Treat Wounded Warriors to Potomac Cruise Aboard Presidential Yacht

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

By Joseph Andrew Lee

The USS Sequoia Presidential Yacht is a National Historic Landmark and has been enjoyed by nine presidents. John F. Kennedy held his 46th and final birthday party there. It was where Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower planned D-Day. Harry Truman decided to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima there and it was where Richard Nixon decided to resign.

On Oct. 22, the yacht was host to more than 30 wounded warriors undergoing treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., family and volunteers. The troops enjoyed a day cruise on the Potomac River aboard the Sequoia, courtesy of the British Embassy’s social secretary, Amanda Downes.

It was a beautiful day and Army PFC Aaron T. Estes was amazed to be on board such an historic vessel.

“It was really generous of Ms. Downes to take us out today,” said Estes, who was wounded two months ago in Afghanistan while serving with the 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, 3/89 Cavalry. “There are a lot of events that I’ve had the opportunity to attend in the last couple months, like an MMA [mixed martial arts] fight and even a SWAT conference. But what’s been the most interesting is meeting the people behind the support. People like Ms. Downes, who go out of their way to make things like this possible for us. It’s inspiring.”

Downes purchased the cruise at an auction during the His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales’s visit to Washington, D.C. in May 2011. The Sequoia was made available for auction through the generous support of owner, Gary Silversmith and the Sequoia Presidential Yacht Group. The funds raised at the auction went to support the USO and its efforts to support wounded warriors.

“The job that our young men and women are doing, both in [the United States] and in [Britain], and all the coalition, I think is extraordinary. We’re reaping the benefits by having a safer place [to live],” Downes said while aboard the Sequoia.

A day cruise on the presidential yacht is just one of the many activities offered to troops at the National Military Medical Center for an escape from the monotonous rigmarole of recovery.

“The USO works closely with the special events coordinators at our national military hospitals and local VA Clinics to provide opportunities for our wounded warriors to venture out of the hospital for a bit of fresh air and fun,” said Pauline Ray, Hospital Services and Entertainment Manager at USO of Metropolitan Washington. “Events and activities range from adaptive physical activities like white water rafting, to concerts, special tours and even opportunities like the USS Sequoia, where troops might have the opportunity to spend a day with a foreign dignitary or a celebrity.”

“The USO always looks for new ways to support troops and their families both at home and abroad and we look forward to building the wonderful partnership we enjoy between British and American armed forces and their families,” said Lynly Boor, USO Director of External Relations.

“Meeting these people has been a humbling experience,” Downes said. “They are very upbeat. It’s inspiring. We can learn a lot from them. I’m glad to be able to do something – anything – for them. To give them the opportunity to see something so special – so historic, is what supporting their recovery is about.”

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Photo caption: Army Staff Sgt. Chaz Allen, wounded by an IED on Jan. 22, 2011, discusses his injuries with Amanda Downes, social secretary of the British Embassy, while riding aboard the USS Sequoia on the Potomac River on October 22, 2011. (Photo: Michael Kulik)