In their time of need, disabled veteran Peter Reid, Petty Officer 1st Class (ret.) and his family turn to TAMCO Foundation Inc.
The motto of the Navy Seabees is Construimus, Batuimus, or “We Build, We Fight.” Like the diligent insects they’re named after, the Seabees are known as the combat construction battalion, a unit that builds bases and paves miles of roadway and airstrips.
Peter Reid, Petty Officer 1st Class (ret.), of Palm Bay, spent 19 years as a Seabee. Now 54, he’s a former heavy-equipment operator who joined the Navy out of high school. Reid spent only five months in Iraq, but the memory of his first tour in 2004 will forever remain in his mind.
Reid was assisting a tactical movement team that escorted convoys and dignitaries in Alasad when enemy mortar struck. He was joined by 34 soldiers that day, Marines and Seabees. The attack claimed the lives of five men and left 34 severely wounded, including Reid.
“I can still remember the sounds and their faces,” he said. “We were a family.”
One mortar smacked the ground, bounced and hit Reid’s left leg. The next thing he remembers is waking up in a hospital. His list of injuries include the loss of his left eye, paralysis to the left side of his body, severe burns, brain damage and a mass of shrapnel wedged in his brain that caused severe blood clots.
Doctors gave him a 1 percent survival chance.
Michelle, Reid’s wife, was told her husband probably wouldn’t survive the plane ride from Germany to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
“It was the most horrible thing you ever could have imagined,” she said. “When I finally saw him, I didn’t think it was him.”
Doctors in Bethesda rebuilt his tibia with bone from Reid’s hip and stomach muscle. Overall, Reid spent more than six weeks in intensive care split between Bethesda and the James Haley VA Hospital in Tampa. He was discharged on Aug. 31, 2004.
Reid’s wife had to quit her job and joined the couple’s son T.C. Cavanagh, 20, in teaching Reid how to eat, talk, drink and struggle through the physical and emotional anguish. For Reid, a pride-filled man who lived the “Can Do” mentality of the Seabees, it’s hard to watch his family follow him through his many ups and downs.
“It bothers me that I’m a piece of baggage that has to be carried around,” he said. “I look in the mirror and I don’t like what I see, knowing who I was.”
But the Reid family’s biggest obstacle hasn’t been his disabilities. It’s the way his former employer, the US Government, has treated him since his return. Reid said the military has been like an insurance company. The stress tore them apart, especially Reid and his son. All that changed when the family got a call from TAMCO Foundation, Inc.
TAMCO is Jack Thompson’s way of filling in the gaps the government doesn’t cover, helping wounded and/or disabled Florida veterans and their families through the grief and financial restraints they face upon returning home from service.
“I resent some of the government for how they treat these people,” said Thompson, who is also the owner of the telecommunications asset management company, TAMCO. “It’s disgusting.”
While the government only pays for visitation once every six months for three family members, TAMCO helps with hotels and travel fees so families can see their loved ones while they go through rehabilitation. The foundation sets up family unity programs, such as gift drives for children and mini-vacations. Renu Parker, CEO/President of TAMCO Foundation, Inc., said starting in 2010 TAMCO will establish a service that pays for veterans or their spouses to get job training.
“Our mission is not an issue of politics,” Renu said. “It’s an issue of humanity. We’re taking care of people who have been hurt.”
In April 2009, Thompson invited the Reid family to a fishing rodeo that TAMCO hosted in Tampa Bay. It was also the first time Reid and his son T.C. had spoken to each other in months.
“The fishing rodeo made us feel like we were normal,” Cavanagh said. “We’ve never been so close.”
According to Michelle Reid, the military dropped her family through the cracks, but TAMCO contacts her several times a week to check up on the family. She said most times the family just needs someone who will listen.
When the Reids visited TAMCO in October, the foundation set them up in a hotel for two nights, gave them free tickets to the Florida Aquarium and a little spending money. Thompson even took them fishing.
Reid’s son recently started a hauling business with his mother, and though their lives are forever changed, they said finally have someone they can count on.
“A lot of people say if you need something, just call,” Cavanagh said. “The thing is, they don’t mean it. TAMCO means it.”
Peter Reid’s progress remains slow but steady. He has physical therapy several times a week and recently started walking a few steps with assistance.
But his biggest feat is a one he’s proud to demonstrate, even though it hurts.
Reid contorts his face, grimacing in unimaginable pain. Using every ounce of energy inside him, the man who was told he’d never be able to use the left side of his body again raises his left arm nearly two feet off the armrest of his chair.
Breathing heavily, a smile unfolds on his weary face. Never tell a Seabee never.
TAMCO Foundation helps Florida’s permanently wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Tampa-based nonprofit organization is made possible through donations and local volunteers. For more information, call 813.319.2533 or visit www.TAMCOFoundation.org.