For the last 2½ weeks, Tyler Huffman, a Marine veteran of the Afghanistan War, has been driving a specially equipped Ford F-150 across the United States in the 6th Annual High Five Tour for Wounded Warriors Family Support.
The High Five Tour, which is going back and forth across the country several times, making more than 200 stops in 60 cities, arrived at Blue Springs Ford, 3200 NW South Outer Road, late Saturday morning, May 23.
Huffman, a Jefferson City resident, understands what the High Five Tour means to wounded veterans. In December 2010, a sniper’s bullet left Huffman paralyzed.
Organizations like Wounded Warriors Family Support and the Gary Sinise Foundation have helped Huffman function better in daily life by helping fund a smart home for him and a vehicle that allows him to go wherever he wants.
Seeing what took place on May 23 at Blue Springs Ford meant a lot to Huffman. He has seen it often in his stops on the tour: People donate money and then thank veterans for their service in the messages they write on the specially equipped red, white and blue Ford Explorer and Ford F-150.
“It is pretty cool to see people come up and donate their hard-earned money even with the way the economy is,” Huffman said. “They find money to donate as much as they can. That means a lot.”
The donated money will help Wounded Warriors Family Support purchase $1 million worth of mobility-equipped Ford Explorers for severely wounded veterans.
These Ford Explorers will be converted to hand-controlled operation for combat-wounded veterans who are paralyzed or have lost both of their legs.
The theme of this year’s High Five Tour is “mobility is freedom.”
“The belief is that by providing a veteran with mobility, we can bring them back into the community and give them the ability to live a more productive life and follow their dreams and pursue it like every other American,” said Mark Raab, a volunteer for the High Five Tour.
Lincoln McCoy said it is very hard to tell that the specially equipped Ford Explorer has been modified for a driver with a disability unless you look very closely.
“A lot of our vets don’t want to be visible,” said McCoy, who remains active in the Air Force reserves. “They want to be treated normal. They are normal. But a lot of people don’t treat them normal. It is more to bring normalcy back in their lives, get them back on the road.”
McCoy and Raab were two of several members of the Mustang Club of Kansas City who volunteered for the High Five Tour event at Blue Springs Ford, which also included a Mustang show.
McCoy was one of the drivers who took the Ford Explorer to the Hartman Heritage Center in Independence later that Saturday and then to the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City on Sunday and Memorial Day.
New drivers took over after Memorial Day, taking the Ford Explorer and the F-150 to the Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville on Wednesday.
“What it means to me is we still have the love and appreciation of the American people,” said Ron Julianelle, a High Five Tour coordinator. “A lot of times, we hear all the bad news and all the bad things that are happening. It is good to have an event like this where people can come out and support those who make it possible for us to have this type of event without any fear of being told we can’t do it. That is what America is all about. American people are fantastic people.”
Julianelle lives in Omaha. He said he made the trip to Kansas City because of the first-class way Blue Springs Ford puts on the event.
“I am just proud to be part of it,” said Kyle Harris, general manager at Blue Springs Ford. “The military is the reason the United States is who we are today. We have freedom and the right to do anything we can. It is a huge event for us.”
Harris gave credit to Mike Hilker for ensuring the event ran smoothly. Hilker is in his sixth year at Blue Springs Ford. Hilker, a fleet manager, thanked owner Bob Balderston.
“It is refreshing,” Hilker said. “Bob does a lot of things under the radar. He doesn’t do it for the press. He does it to be supportive of the community. This means a lot.”
It was easy to see the event meant a lot to the people who showed up. There were touching moments such as when Julianelle gave Gorman Penn, a veteran, a special coin.
“We have one of these made up every year for the tour,” Julianelle said. “There is a purple heart on it and the other side has a map of the High Five tour 2015. I gave him a coin for his service.”
Penn, a resident of Blue Springs, was thankful to Blue Springs Ford for holding the event.
“I bought nine cars from these people,” Penn said. “I love them. I like what they do for the veterans.”
Penn also liked what he saw when he inspected the specially equipped Ford Explorer.
“I think it is an amazing deal,” Penn said. “I like that they are making it look like a normal, everyday car so nobody will know.”
Huffman said the specially equipped F-150 was easy for him to operate. He had no trouble getting in and out of the truck and operating it.
It was a truly special day for Huffman, who accepted a $1,000 check on behalf of the Wounded Warriors Family Support from Blue Springs Ford in its monthly Helping Others Community Project.
“What they are doing is good,” Huffman said. “They put it out there that they truly care about veterans and getting the word out.”