The Salute Military Golf Association and the George Washington University Men’s Golf Team have come together to create the Warrior Tribute, a season-long campaign to honor all Warrior Golfers. Five veterans actively taking part in SMGA events will have their names and symbols placed on a golf bag that GW players will carry at all of their tournaments this fall. The bravery of these wounded warriors shines through their service to our country, and in how they live their lives today. It is our privilege to share their stories with you.
Some injuries and ailments are obvious at first glance, but most SMGA members have to learn to live with issues on the inside, too. Take Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jim Herring as an example. As a member of the Army Special Forces, better known as the Green Berets, he carries himself as a strong, proud, stoic man, but battles his body every day.
The wear and tear of tours of duty in Afghanistan, Iraq, and South America, as well as an improvised explosive device attack on his vehicle in Iraq, have taken their toll on him. On account of the vertebrae fusion in his neck, the surgeries on his legs, and the nerve pain in his back and his arms, Herring aches 24/7, with one exception. When he’s on the golf course, the pain disappears.
“I think it’s just being competitive,” Herring explained. “Getting out there and swinging the golf club and stretching before I play and actually playing, all I think about is the golf. But as soon as I get home and sit down on the couch, I lock up like the tin man.”
Herring — a Silver Star, Bronze Star with Valor, and Purple Heart recipient — joined the SMGA in 2011 after a recommendation by a fellow Warrant Officer got him back and playing competitive golf again. It was there he met PGA Master Professional Brad Clayton, who conducts Warrior Golf Clinics at the SMGA’s Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune chapters. Clayton has a deep sense of empathy for the members he teaches, as he had his right arm amputated after a freak accident and had to relearn the game with a prosthetic hand to grip the club. Herring credits Clayton not only for advancing his game, but for creating a sense of fellowship for Warrior Golfers in the Raleigh-Durham area as well.
Clayton created the Brotherhood of Warriors, a small non-profit based out of his range in Oxford, N.C., to promote relationships and communication within the wounded veteran community. Herring enjoys being involved because “it’s a charity where you can just play golf.”
“We all think we can stand up to everything that’s been thrown at us,” Herring said. “But it’s good to have friends with similar careers, experiences, and the same deep sense of patriotism and love of country.”
Herring’s life today consists of two things: work (he still serves full-time as the North Carolina National Guard’s State Command Chief Warrant Officer) and golf. At the top of his golf resume is a win in the pro-am portion of the Bush Foundation’s 2015 Warrior Open. He is also looking forward to November, when the Brotherhood of Warriors will hold the Challenge Cup, which pits Army veterans versus former Marines in a Ryder Cup-format.
The GW Golf team visited Herring at his home club last weekend before their appearance at NC State’s Wolfpack Intercollegiate, and then he followed the Colonials during day one of the tournament. According to GW senior Vince Palazzolo, Herring took every opportunity to ask questions and learn from the GW players.
“He’s very curious about your tournament mentality. I think [he wanted to learn],” Palazzolo explained. “I hit a shot into the trees on number 10 on the right side, in the little trees. I had to go out sideways, and I cut a wedge up onto the green, and he was like, ‘How did you do that?’ Very curious, you could tell he really, really enjoys the game and uses it as an outlet.”
Palazzolo carried the Warrior Tribute bag at the event, which had a new addition thanks to Herring. He gave the team his Special Forces detachment patch, as he served with Operational Detachment Alpha 2084 in his tours of duty. As the badges and patches and pins from each honoree start to cover every available inch of the bag, the appreciation and mutual respect between the GW players and the SMGA members becomes more and more tangible.
For the Colonials, the gifts of these symbols signify a much larger gift their honorees gave them.
“[They put] everything into perspective,” Palazzolo said. “It’s a way to be out on the golf course and remember, ‘Hey we’re playing golf and all these badges and names on this bag are the reason why we can enjoy doing what we’re doing, because these guys sacrificed so much for us.’”