Gwinnett Sentinels help three vets in need

DULUTH - Three Gwinnett Army vets have run aground in the dire straits of financial misfortune and physical disability. It hasn't gone unnoticed.

Enter: the Sentinels of Freedom Gwinnett, a not-for-profit dedicated to pulling them - and the multitude of others like them - back to smoother waters.

From the excess of area vets who rely on community assistance, the Sentinels have selected three relatively young men - each a survivor of recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq - as the focal points of an inaugural Christmas campaign.

The hope is to pull together $1,000 for each man by Dec. 23, a necessary contribution to help them through the holidays, leaders say.

The impetus for the campaign was, well, spontaneous.

"Our board was just kind of sitting around, and said, 'We're not doing anything for Christmas,'" said Tim Thornberry, the group's president, who toured Iraq as a platoon sergeant in the Marines. "It really was ad-hoc ... 'What can we do to help out?'"

The handpicked trio of recipients all reside in Gwinnett. Each is in "desperate" need of a financial boost, having exhausted contributions from churches and the coffers of other non-for-profits, Thornberry said.

"These three guys are still coming up short, with all the other things out there," he said. "The list of veterans in financial need in Gwinnett County is much longer than three. These represent those with the most immediate needs."

The local Sentinels branch from a national organization. They're committed to easing life's stresses for the deluge of wounded servicemembers pouring back into America from battlefields overseas.

The soldiers' full names have been withheld, at their request, for privacy. These are their stories, as relayed by Sentinel leaders:

Spc. William H.

His Gwinnett apartment suffered a structure fire Nov. 7, destroying his family's belongings while displacing him and his 15-year-old son. His most pressing need is clothing for his son, and a permanent housing solution.

Sgt. Gabriel M.

He suffered a back injury at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom near Baghdad and was subsequently discharged in April 2005. Employed as a police officer in Riverdale, he suffered a knee injury while responding to a robbery in December last year, rendering him financially incapable of providing for his two sons.

Staff Sgt. Jeremy W.

He was shot and severely wounded on March 19, 2006, in Iraq, for which he was later awarded the Silver Star. The disability has kept him in constant financial strain, following his transition off active duty. His primary concern is the proper care of his wife and three children.

To donate, mail checks to Sentinels of Freedom Gwinnett at P.O. Box 2124 Duluth, GA 30096. Donations can also be made securely at the group's Web site, www.sentinelsoffreedomgwinnett.org/