Veterans at the James H. Quillen VA Medical Center were recently given the opportunity to see one of America’s national symbols up close and personal, as Challenger the bald eagle and his team visited the hospital.
Challenger, a 29-year old non-releasable bald eagle, is cared for by the non-profit American Eagle Foundation (hyperlink to www.eagles.org) headquartered at Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. He is the first bald eagle in U.S. history trained to free-fly into major stadiums and events to the National Anthem. He was named in honor of the fallen space shuttle crew.
As part of its mission, the American Eagle Foundation works with volunteers to release baby eaglets into the wild. One of those volunteers receives care at the facility and the team wanted to bring Challenger by for a healing visit when that volunteer was recently hospitalized. They offered to put on two classes for staff and Veterans who may otherwise never have an opportunity to be so close to this symbol of our Nation.
“This was a very exciting event for our Veterans and staff alike,” said Facility Director Dean B. Borsos. “We were pleased that they wanted to share this magnificent bird with us, and our team pulled together to accommodate on short notice. We are striving to continuously enhance our experiences here, and those who were able to see him seemed thrilled by the experience.”
Staff and Veterans gathered in the large atrium areas during their lunch in order to hear about bald eagles, the foundation and Challenger’s unique story.
“We appreciate the American Eagle Foundation giving our Veterans and staff this experience,” said Borsos. “We certainly look forward to welcoming them back again in the future.”
Kristen Schabert is the Public Affairs Officer at the James H. Quillen VAMC in Mountain Home, Tennessee.