Escorted onto the court by a four man color guard of Army and Air Force ROTC cadets, the pair received thundering applause and shouts of thanks from the crowd after the national anthem was performed.
They were also named honorary team captains for the men’s basketball team for the evening.
Assembled in the crowd were approximately forty ROTC cadets in uniform who showed up to support their brothers in arms.
“We wanted to come out and show support for veterans,” said ROTC cadet and natural resources management sophomore Jonathan Kummer. “We’re just a big family.”
The athletic department partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics to bring Shunk and Sutton to Fort Collins from Colorado Springs.
“CSU Athletics is humbled to have the opportunity to recognize John Shunk and Donald Cooper,” said Director of Athletics Jack Graham in a press release. “These two heroes, who call Colorado home, represent thousands of men and women who put their lives on the line every day to defend our country and our freedom.”
Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) is a non-profit organization based in Jacksonville, Fla. that supports and empowers wounded soldiers and works on increasing public awareness for wounded veterans.
Shunk said he spent yesterday snowshoeing outside of Frisco on an outing sponsored by WWP.
According to the WWP website, more than 48,000 service members have been physically wounded during the current military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands more are estimated to be recovering from invisible wounds of war, including post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and traumatic brain injury.
Sutton returned from his last overseas deployment in 2009. With 21 years of military service under his belt, he’s looking forward to the next stage of his life when he retires next month.
Sutton plans on finishing a double associate degree in the tech field and continuing to work with the WWP in the Transition Training Academy. The TTA helps wounded soldiers pursue career options in tech fields.
Sutton said even if a soldier doesn’t have physical injuries, there could be psychological impairment such as post-traumatic stress disorder that make transitioning back to normal life difficult.
“Some of the soldiers coming back might have issues being around crowds of people,” Sutton said. “In other situations crowds of people didn’t like us. It’s having to adjust to a whole new mental environment.”
The pair spent the afternoon touring campus and meeting with ROTC cadets and officers.
Lt. Col. Channing Moose, professor of military science at CSU, said it was an honor for the ROTC cadets to meet the veteran soldiers. He also said the WWP helps with the long term transition away from combat that wounded soldiers go through.
“It’s more than just medical needs for soldiers who are wounded,” Moose said. “Wounded Warrior Program also helps care for vets and their families over the years in areas outside of just medical needs.”