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Local Veteran Surprised with $10,000 Check

Chris Hempel, U.S. Army Veteran and wife Jessica are surprised with $10,000 check from R&DA Military Assistance Program

Pensacola Beach wrapped up another successful Songwriters Festival yesterday, and while there were dozens of outstanding performances, there was one that really touched the Local Pulse Team.


On Friday, October 6 Pensacola Beach Songwriters Festival presented a Concert of Light: A Night with the Veterans sponsored by D.a.T. Sauce Louisiana Gumbo and Bill E’s Bacon Pork Belly Bites. A special evening dedicated to music by or for veterans where a portion of the proceeds raised were donated to R&DA Military Assistance Program and The Captain Joseph House.

The R&DA Military Assistance Program provides monetary and direct assistance to injured U.S. military service members and their families. At this Concert of Light, a very special Navarre military family was not only honored and recognized for their contributions but surprised with a $10,000 check.

Chris Hempel is an Iraqi War Veteran who served on Active Duty as a transportation specialist in the United States Army for just shy of 6 years. In October 2009 Hempel’s vehicle ran over an IED. Hempel survived the explosion, but his injuries medically boarded him out of the military and would continue to get worse after returning home.  Chris’ injuries eventually encroached his ability to work at all. His wife, Jessica Hempel, works in the medical field and is a positive force to keep the family moving and supporting their two boys.

His loved ones describe him in the application for the award as someone who loves music (that’s an understatement) and being outside. He spends most his time caring for his two boys. Chris is not bitter. He is a veteran who loves America. He is good natured and loves talking to people. He will do whatever he can to help another person.

Being there while Chris and his wife received this award, which will be used to help with bills and supporting them through the holidays, was an honor and a moment I will hold close to my heart for years to come. Chairman of the Board of Directors for R&DA Military Assistance Program, LTC Don P. Vtipil Jr., was Skyped in from Virginia to present the award along with Matt Williams, Army Veteran, singer/songwriter and Founder of Vet Church who presented the check. Upon receiving praise from Vtipil and a surprise check, Hempel and his wife were immediately reduced to tears of gratitude and embraced by Matt and the event organizers.

Chris and his family weren’t the only family there paying tribute to their military background. We also heard from Betsy Schultz, founder of Captain Joseph House in memory of her only child, Captain Joseph Schultz who was killed in action in Afghanistan. Betsy traveled all the way from Port Angeles, Washington to share her story and Foundation in support of military families of the Fallen.

Within days of her son Joseph’s death, Betsy recognized that something was missing in the continuum of care for Families of our Fallen Heroes – the opportunity to bond with others experiencing a similar loss. She immediately began channeling her grief into action. She formed the non-profit Captain Joseph House Foundation, donated her large “bed and breakfast” to the organization, and began converting it into a Respite Home for Gold Star Families.

Betsy Schultz, Founder of Captain St. Joseph House Foundation

The House provides a safe and peaceful environment where new friendships can take root and Families can draw strength from each other. It will allow Family members to connect on a more personal level with others on a similar journey in a home-away-from home setting. You can learn more about Captain Joseph House Foundation and the families they have helped on their website.

As part of a strong military town, it was rewarding to see a local family receive National recognition and watch our community come together to support, honor and unite our resident veterans. Thank you for letting our team be a part of this special evening and even bigger thank you to those who helped put this event together and who support non profits like these ones.