Circus Honors Wounded Servicemembers

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2007 - About than 60 wounded warriors from Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., spent last night clowning around at Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus's Military Appreciation Night.

Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus is a corporate team member of America Supports You, the Defense Department program that highlights the ways Americans and the corporate sector are supporting the nation's military.

Army Cpl. John Callahan, a patient from Walter Reed, said he hadn't been to the circus since he was 11. "I love coming out when I get a chance. I think it's good for the morale, too."

Marine Staff Sgt. Jonathan Bryant, also a Walter Reed patient, agreed the night was about having fun, but he said the fact that the servicemembers were the guests of honor made the night even better.

"We're just glad that people recognize our service most of all," he said. "We're just glad to be here, just glad to have fun. (We want to) thank everybody for supporting us."

America Supports You home-front group Our Military Kids also attended the circus to inform circus-goers about its program. The group provides grants and scholarships to children of deployed and severely injured Reserve and National Guard military personnel to continue sports, fine arts and tutoring activities. Three of their families also were able to attend, Linda Davidson, executive director of Our Military Children, said.

"We're supporting the children of severely injured and deployed Reserve and National Guard (servicemembers), and I think when we think of circuses we think of children and we think of families," Davidson said. "We felt it was a great opportunity to showcase the Our Military Kids program."

Before the festivities officially began, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Sattler, director for strategic plans and policy for the Joint Staff, joked with the clowns and greeted the wounded warriors and their families. He called the circus's gesture of free tickets to the performance "a great tribute" to the servicemembers.

"I think it's great that Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey is honoring them tonight," Sattler said. "It makes the families feel good, (and) I think the rest of us who are here, it gives us kind of a warm touch in your heart to realize this kind of generosity exists."

The general's backstage experience wouldn't have been complete without photos with Army Sgt. Tom Davis and his family and, of course, Karen the elephant. Karen showed her patriotic appreciation by sporting an elephant-sized America Supports You dog tag.

Kenneth Feld, chairman and chief executive officer of Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, said supporting the troops is a part of the circus's culture now.

"Every performance, ... before the show starts, we talk about our relationship with America Supports You," he said. "The response it generates - the applause, the support - we see that as we play in over 135 cities across America every year."

As the evening's performance began, Feld, on behalf of the circus, expressed pride in being a part of the Defense Department's program. "This is a very special night," he said. "We're excited that this is the second year of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey's partnership with the Department of Defense America Supports You program."

Then Sattler, as the guest ringmaster, took the spotlight.

"On behalf of a grateful nation, I want to thank you and Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus for sponsoring some of our wounded warriors here at the circus," he said. "What we have with us tonight are some of the soldiers and Marines, sailors and airmen who went forward and stood on the wall and looked evil in the eye and said, 'Not on my watch!'"

After a round of applause for the servicemembers in attendance, it was all about fun for the general.

"This is the one time in my life where I get to say, 'Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth! Ooo-Rah!'" Sattler said to open the show.

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