JCSE member hosts 6th Annual Warrior’s Feast at James A. Haley Veterans Hospital
by: Julianne Sympson
Military members’ service to others goes beyond their day-to-day duties. For the past six years, U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Bruno Robles, who is assigned to the Joint Communications Support Element’s (JCSE) 224th Joint Communications Support Squadron (JCSS), has exemplified this sentiment by hosting an annual Thanksgiving Dinner, or "Warrior’s Feast," at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Fla. to show appreciation to veterans, their families and the staff.
The James A. Haley Veterans Hospital is a specialized medical center which treats active duty personnel and military veterans who have suffered from traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and other critical medical conditions.
Robles initially got involved with James Haley when his brother-in-law, U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. David Durrance, was admitted to the hospital in 2006 after suffering a traumatic brain injury on Jan.1 of that year. The doctors assessed his physical conditions and informed the family of the probable outcome. The news was grim; however, Robles and his family were able to spend time supporting Durrance during his recovery with the help of the Haley House, a non-profit organization that provides free accommodations for the families of injured veterans who live over 50 miles away from the hospital. By providing these free living arrangements, the Haley House reassures the service members that their loved ones are close by to provide moral support and encouragement.
Durrance, with the mental toughness of a Marine, worked closely with the James Haley hospital doctors, nurses and therapists to regain physical abilities, re-learn daily tasks and improve his overall quality of life. After months of treatment and strenuous therapy, Durrance has substantially recovered and lives a fulfilling life with his family in Mobile, Ala.
"The James A. Haley doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff are relentless in helping patients and families reach their fullest potential," said Robles. "As a family, we are so grateful for the dedication of the staff for the jobs they do, day in and day out, serving our precious warriors."
Pictured from left to right, U.S. Marine Corps Col. Beau Higgins, Mrs. Tammy Robles, Joint Communications Support Element member U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Bruno Robles, U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Michael Schultz, the Senior Enlisted Advisor Under the Secretary of Defense from the Pentagon, and Ms. Cathy Williams, the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital Recreational Therapy Supervisor, who all work together to make the Warrior’s Feast a success each year. Thanks to their great efforts over the past six years, the Warrior’s Feast has brought a Thanksgiving meal to those veterans, their families and the hospital staff during the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Robles family’s involvement with James A. Haley Veterans Hospital and Haley House prompted them to find a way to give back to the staff. After personally experiencing the hardships of those at James Haley Veterans Hospital and the Haley House, Robles and his wife, Tammy, established a new tradition in 2009 of serving a home cooked Thanksgiving meal to the patients, families and hospital staff.
"On Thanksgiving Day it is important to us to be able to provide the patients, their families and all the hospital staff an opportunity to celebrate this great American tradition," said Robles. "Everyone on duty plays an important role in the treatment and care of patients and they also sacrifice their family time to serve the needs of others."
Due to the Warrior’s Feast’s continual growth over the years, the Robles family must now utilize catering services to feed the hundreds of participants. This meaningful event continues to bring families together who may be going through similar circumstances to celebrate Thanksgiving away from home.
"The people we met at James Haley Veterans Hospital truly cared about David and our family. His story has proven to be an example of how, with the right support, patients can greatly improve during their incredible road to recovery," said Robles, who also provides information to patients and families on additional resources and rehabilitation programs in the area. "It’s always good to give back to the troops and this is a direct way to use our personal experience to help others."
From 2009 to 2013, with the help of several individuals and local organizations, a total of 1,500 meals have been served and $3,000 has been donated to the Haley House. This year’s Warrior’s Feast, with the help of over 30 volunteers, served 450 meals with several additional meals that were transported to Liberty Manor, a local transition center for homeless veterans to complement
their Thanksgiving meal. Beginning this year, a yearly donation was presented to the Recreation Therapy department in the amount of $1,400.00. This has become the new area of support as the Haley House moves into a new focus of services.
"We try to serve as a reminder to the patients and families that they are not alone. They, like our family, stand alongside each other in what may be the most difficult battle they will ever face," said Robles. "These troops will fight day by day with all they have in them to be the best they can be. As we know all too well, it’s a long road. But it is one we are determined that they will not walk alone."
The Robles family’s Thanksgiving tradition of giving back to the patients, families and staff at James Haley Veterans Hospital has truly touched hundreds of families and continues to make a difference in their community. Despite the potentially difficult and uncertain times families face at James Haley Veterans Hospital and the Haley House, the Warrior’s Feast is a remarkable event of counting one’s blessings and giving back, which fits the true meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday.
On Thanksgiving Day, Joint Communications Support Element 224th Joint Communications Support Squadron member, U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Bruno Robles (front row, second from the right), his wife, Tammy (front row, far right) and his nine-year-old son, Nick (front row, right center) and approximately 30 volunteers supported this year’s Warrior’s Feast at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital, in Tampa, Fla. Robles and his family have helped organize this event for the past six years and continue to make this an integral part of their family’s Thanksgiving tradition.