Veteran and motivational speaker J.R. Martinez honored at last night’s Heroes Gala Photo: Brad Barket/PictureGroup
You’ve seen the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) commercials: They’re the ones on TV and on Hulu where a young man returns home from war and is greeted with empty streets reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic Roland Emmerich movie. Suddenly, another man in camo comes out to a street corner and shakes the man’s hand. IAVA’s slogan for 2009? “We’ve Got Your Back.”
And got your back they do: In 2008, Paul Rieckhoff, Iraq veteran and founder of IAVA, lobbied Congress to pass the G.I Bill which ensures affordable college education to all veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. This year, the IAVA is also working to increase health care coverage of veterans by $4.5 billion.
The stars were out last night at New York’s Gotham Hall for the third annual Heroes Gala of the D.C. grassroots lobby group, but nobody was looking at the celebrities. Instead, the real stars of the evening were the servicemen and women themselves, who populated the non-profit, non-partisan event hosted by Brian Williams, as well as Rieckhoff, MTV’s Van Toffler and veteran-cum-actor-cum-motivational spokesman J.R. Martinez, who delivered the night’s most moving speech after being awarded for his courageous service for veterans.
More photos from the night after the jump
“NBC Nightly News” host Brian Williams plays master of ceremonies after his recent trip to Afghanistan
Also on hand were former Wonkette and Air America on-air host Ana Marie Cox (who we found when we saw her tweet “#iava knows how to treat returning vets: MASHED POTATO BAR! (Srsly, everyone w- medals on their chest has been by”) and former FishbowlNY’ers and current Mediaites Glynnis MacNicol and Rachel Sklar. Jonathan Schliefer, who has been working as policy director for IAVA for seven months worked the room making sure everyone felt at home, while IAVA rolled out their newest commercial for veterans, “Camouflage.”
Another award winner, MTV Networks prez Van Toffler, whose original program “Return to Duty,” airs tonight.
J.R. Martinez spoke on his tour in Iraq which left scars on 40 percent of his body, and how his work at the V.A. hospital in Fort Hood (now in the news because of the horrendous shootings last week) gave him the courage to go around the country speaking to fellow servicemen and even become one of the faces of this war when he landed a supporting role playing a veteran on “All My Children.”
Afghanistan veteran Wes Moore, Martinez, IAVA founder Paul Rieckhoff
By the time the PS22 chorus came out singing Styxx’s “Sailing Away,” there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. “Please remember you have a moral obligation to support those who served,” said Rieckoff, “Make every single day Veteran’s Day.”
For more information about IAVA visit their Web site at IAVA.org.