Many Veterans place stickers on their vehicles to represent their branch of service, pay tribute to a fallen Servicemember, or even to signify their favorite fast food joint (In-N-Out Burger, anyone?) When we Veterans see a familiar emblem, we immediately know that we share a common experience, or at least that maybe we kicked around in the same dirt.
So when VA’s Digital Media Engagement Team received a tip Monday that there was a Ford F-150 a few blocks from VA headquarters covered from grill to tailgate in military artwork, we had to see it up close.
It was cold and rainy, conditions familiar to the Navy SEALs which the truck honors. The truck is part of Operation Raptor, a nationwide tour including six Ford Raptors airbrushed with a military theme. Five of them represent each of the five U.S. Military Special Forces Units; the sixth celebrates the 100th anniversary of K-9s in military service.
This Special Forces Raptors will tour the U.S. from 2014 through 2015, featuring Special Forces Veterans injured in combat who serve as “tour guides,” explaining their service and the obstacles they face as disabled Veterans. The trucks will later be auctioned off, with the proceeds to benefit critically injured Special Forces Veterans.
When I got there, I met with Randy Hayes, president of America’s Fallen Heroes, an organization that has been volunteering since 2005 to assist Veterans. Hayes is the organizer of Operation Raptor. Following his stop near VA, he was taking the truck to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to connect with recovering Veterans.
He started describing the artwork on the truck, but I soon realized the story was also a lesson.
The truck tells the 70-year history of the Navy SEALs, dating back to the World War II Underwater Demolition Teams, whose members would swim up at night and plant explosives on the German-emplaced beach obstacles.
Moving across the length of the vehicle, the scene progresses and includes President John F. Kennedy, who enacted the first legislation that secured permanent funding for Special Operations Groups. The artwork highlights conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, Operation Desert Storm, and current operations in Southwest Asia.
Pictures can only convey a fraction of how inspirational the mobile tribute actually is; if you have the opportunity, I encourage you to go and view one. For more information about the program visit Operation Raptor’s website.