Michael Jernigan is a Marine who proudly served with Company E 2nd Battalion 2nd Marine regiment. On August 22, 2004 while on a deployment in Iraq, Michael’s platoon was on patrol when it was hit by two 155mm artillery shells buried under the ground. The Improvised Explosive Device threw him 20 meters from the Humvee. Michael suffered life threatening and life changing injuries that day. 45% of his cranium was crushed in. He had shrapnel enter in his right eye and exit through his left eye, cutting everything in between. He had to have two fingers reattached and his right hand fully reconstructed. He fractured his patella and cut his femoral artery. Michael went through 30 major surgeries in the first 12 months and spent 16 months in hospitals and rehab facilities.
Since the attack Michael has taken his second chance at life and turned it into something that is never taken for granted. He volunteers his time whenever it is needed and always offers a helping hand. Since being wounded he has graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of South Florida, was featured in the HBO documentary Alive Day, has been a contributing writer to the NYTimes.com Home Fires blog and was recognized as Learning Ally’s 2012 National Achievement Award winner. For his dedication and continual community service Michael was awarded the ‘Veteran of the Year Award’ from his hometown of St. Petersburg Florida. In 2006 Michael Co founded Paws for Patriots at South Eastern Guide Dogs; which provides guide dogs and service animals to veterans. He has touched thousands of lives through his motivational speaking, peer to peer counseling and now his work with the Blinded American Veterans Foundation and the Corporal’s Corner blog. Michael’s continued service to others has not gone unnoticed and on November 9, 2017 Michael was awarded ‘The Ross Perot Patriot award’ and most recently was selected by the Medal of Honor Society to receive their 2020 Citizen Honors Service Act Award He has turned the most traumatic experience of his life into a life filled with a new purpose; to help others gain their vision. Michael’s favorite saying is, “It wasn’t until I lost my sight, that I gained my vision”. Too often people solely rely on their eyes to see, but miss out on life’s most precious moments, the ones you can’t see, but only feel. Michael truly embodies what it means to be a Marine, “honor, courage, commitment”.
Gary B. Beikirch
Gary Beikirch enlisted in the Army in August of 1967 after completing two years of college in upstate New York. He completed basic and Infantry training at Fort Dix, New Jersey and was selected for Special Forces (Green Beret) training. After completion of Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia, he continued on to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for Special Forces training, completing phases 1 and 2 of the Special Forces course as well as phases 1 and 2 of medical training. He served with the 3rd, 5th, and 10th Special Forces Groups as a Medical and Light Weapons Specialist.
Gary Beikirch deployed as part of the 5th Special Forces Group in the summer of 1969 to the Kontum Province of Vietnam. During his deployment, SGT Beikirch was assigned as the team medic to the remote Montagnard village of Dak Seang in the Central Highlands near the border of Laos. On April 1, 1970 a massive force of North Vietnamese troops attacked the camp resulting in high American and Montagnard casualties. Ignoring his own personal safety and suffering multiple wounds in combat, SGT Beikirch rescued numerous American, Vietnamese, and Montagnard casualties. For his actions during the battle of Dak Seang, SGT Beikirch was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on 15 October 1973.
Upon completion of his military service, Gary attended White Mountain Seminary and was ordained through the United Baptist Fellowship in 1975. He also continued his civilian education earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology/Psychology from the University of New Hampshire, and a Masters of Science Degree in Educational Counseling from the State University of New York in Brockport. His career experience includes: hospital and prison ministry, youth ministry, a team counselor and former Executive Director for the Veterans Outreach Center and most recently serves as the Chaplain for the Medal of Honor Society. He has also recently retired after having served as a middle school counselor in Rochester, NY for over 33 years. He now spends his time traveling and speaking to our military, veterans, community and school groups with his message of making a difference in the lives of others…living a life of significance. He is also a recent survivor of color/rectal cancer.
Gary currently resides in Rochester, NY with his wife, Loreen. They have 3 children Stephanie, Stephen, and Sarah as well as 14 grandchildren and one great-grandson.
Jeff J. Powers
Jeff Powers is an avid entrepreneur and founder of several organizations focused in the Animal Health industry including Bay Medical Solutions, a National wholesale distributor of pet medications. He also founded Med Vets, Inc., a licensed wholesale veterinary pharmacy in 2004. An ardent supporter of US Military Veteran causes, he formed Med Vets Charitable Foundation – a nonprofit organization providing no cost veterinary products to treat service dogs of veterans in need. His community involvement is found in several nonprofit organizations including the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW), where he served on the Board of Directors for six years and as a member of its finance committee.
Brian-Lee Donarski a.k.a. Ski grew up in Roseau, Minnesota graduating from Roseau High School in 1987. He enlisted and served 10 ½ years in the United States Marine Corps and was honorably discharged in 1998. On September 11, 2001, Ski waived his VA benefits, and ultimately re-enlisted in the United States Army in 2004.
Brian has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration: Computer Information Systems from Hawaii Pacific University and an Associate in Arts degree from Columbia College.
During a combat mission Donarski’s truck hit an improvised explosive device (IED); he was EVAC in March 2006 from the Anbar Province, which resulted in serious wounds. He suffers from 4 traumatic brain injuries (TBI), post-traumatic stress (PTS), back injury, bulged disk at L1-S1 and a stable burst fracture in his neck at C4-C7. He lost vision in his right eye, requires a prosthetic eye. He has had multiple surgeries on both shoulders and arms repairing the clavicle, triceps’ and biceps. Three abdominal muscles tears (titanium mess inserted). All teeth cracked in mouth by bomb.
Brian spent 17 months rehabilitating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. His daughters by his side, they helped teach him to talk, walk, write and read all over again. He continued to be overwhelmed by physical and mental trauma but remained positive and strong. He turned to the game of golf, which helped his healing continue by slowing things down in order to process daily life skills.
Ski redeployed to Afghanistan in 2008, successfully completing his missions with 2nd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne). He completed the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School (OCS) and was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Military Intelligence Branch as an All-Source Intelligence Officer 35D in 2009.
While attending Military Intelligence School, he was struck by a pick-up truck, which triggered his TBI, PTS and resulted in additional injuries. After several years in various medical centers, he was medically retired and honorably discharged from his service in August 2012.
Brian is the recipient of many awards and decorations for his service, including the Purple Heart and Combat Action Badge for his actions in combat.
Ski continues to utilize golf as a source of healing and helping others through charity work. He has won many tournaments and placed successfully in others. Having success at the Warrior Open invitational hosted by President Bush in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
He is recognized with his true courage in George W. Bush’s book Portraits of Courage.
Brian’s involved with numerous non-profit charities. He serves as the National Community Ambassador for Virginians For Veterans (V4V), mentors and conducts inspirational speeches which includes Hope For The Warriors, advocate for Military Service Initiative (MSI) at the George W. Bush Presidential Center Team43 among other organizations and assists disabled children at specialized camps. These efforts directly support wounded service members, their families and children with special needs.
Currently serves as Vice President for Blinded American Veterans Foundation. http://bavf.org
None of this can compare to the pride Brian has as a father of his two amazing daughters, McKenzi and Maya. He truly loves his M&M’s with all his heart.