Over the weekend I had the opportunity to visit the annual car show and open house of Warfighter Made in Temecula. The non-profit started around 2015 retrofitting trucks, cars, and off-road vehicles so veterans who lost limbs in combat could drive their personal vehicles. I was told the Veterans Administration covers the cost of a special minivan but as co-founder Rob Blanton says, “It’s bad enough a 19-year-old Marine lost both of his legs in combat, now he’s relegated to driving a minivan? Not on my watch!”
Blanton says in addition to doing the retrofitting, or adaptive enhancements, Warfighter Made has an off-roading team that competes at races around the country and Mexico. Blanton says this is all part of the ongoing therapy to help catastrophically wounded veterans cope with their loss, their depression, and reintegrate into some sort of normalcy.
The focal point of the charity is a small garage nestled in a corporate park in Temecula. Blanton says he’s trying to get some support to move to a larger location which would expand the garage, greatly increasing the number of veterans the group can help.
On Saturday afternoon, Wallace Fanene was given an off-road vehicle with modified safety features. Fanene lost his right arm and right leg in combat and has become adept at driving vehicles with his 2 remaining limbs. Fanene was gracious but shy about the gift. He told me he plans to use the ATV to move around his large property in Temecula. The ATV was donated by Polaris which has become a loyal supporter of Warfighter Made. The company donates a vehicle every year, Warfighter Made modifies it to fit the needs of the recipient.
A committee meets regularly to determine who will receive a new ATV or have their personal vehicle modified. A veteran must meet certain criteria and there’s no cost for the modifications.
Danny Novoa was one of the first to receive help from Warfighter Made. Novoa was severely injured by a roadside bomb in Fallujah and almost lost both legs. He suffers from brain seizures, has all fake teeth, and is blind in one eye. Now, Novoa is the shop foreman and helps teach others how to work on engines and be a part of the process. Novoa told me about a veteran who, prior to losing both legs in combat, was a competitive dirt bike racer. Warfighter Made adapted the man’s motorcycle so he can now ride it using his hands to upshift, downshift and brake.
Co-founder Rob Blanton says the annual budget for Warfighter Made is around $200,000, and they only have one employee to handle administrative duties. Everyone else associated with the organization donates their time. And the number of vehicles modified per year depends on the funding available.
To learn more about Warfighter Made go to their website here.