by Ann Green, OSD Contributor
Iraq War veteran Chance McPheron served in the US Army for six years. Since his discharge he has continued to serve his country, now as Regional Director of OSD (Operation Supply Drop) Northwest. Since beginning his work for OSD in 2015, he has recruited and organized a community of over 400 to support the military and veterans in Greater Seattle. His duties include event organization, fundraising, volunteer coordination and social media management. “Since 2015 we have hosted and or participated in nearly 50 community-focused events,” says McPherron. “In that same time we have raised over $15,000 for OSD and charity partners.”
McPheron, who grew up in Illinois, joined the Army — like many other patriots — in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. He also had a military role model, his stepfather, who had served as a naval officer. McPheron served in Iraq for six months in 2007 as part of the surge, when President George W. Bush boosted the number of American troops to provide security to Baghdad and Al Anbar Province. “It was a wild life in Baghdad,” recalls McPheron, who served as an infantry team leader. “We lost quite a few from my battalion. We were spread pretty thin in an extreme situation. We didn’t live on a base; we lived in a schoolhouse library because the locals asked us to stay to protect it. The generator was old as hell and constantly breaking down, leaving us without power for hours at a time.” He adds modestly, “But I know that others had it worse.”
“Across the street from the school people were shooting at us randomly,” he adds. And then one day his battalion was attacked with IEDs and mortars. McPheron suffered a traumatic brain injury, as well as injuries to his back and shoulders. He was medically discharged in 2009.
McPheron credits the Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB) with helping him recover from his injuries and smoothing his transition to civilian life. WTB, headquartered at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, provides medical care, advocacy and case management for ill, injured and wounded soldiers.
“In four months with WTB I learned a lot, like what I would need to process a VA claim, how to deal with Social Security. WTB really helps. In October of 2016 we had a Halloween party for them. I like the fact that I can give back to people who helped me. There are a lot of great organizations out there, like Wounded Warrior Project, USO, Team RWB, and of course, OSD. We work together.”
McPheron connected with OSD through gaming. “I heard about OSD and related to the idea of a veteran/military social network through gaming. It can be hard to connect since we don’t all live near each other, but we connect through gaming. I have a friend from the military who’s 1000 miles away, and that’s how we socialize.” Gaming can have a positive impact on recovery, helping with cognitive processing, balance, range of motion and psychosocial interaction.
“I’d been out for about six years, working with another charity and had become aware of the great work of OSD,” recalls McPheron. “I reached out to Glenn (Banton, OSD CEO & Executive Director), who contacted me and told me what he hoped to accomplish. Would I staff OSD in Washington? I was 100% on board.”
“I run the top end of the operation on the team side in the Northwest, from San Francisco to Northern Nevada. We operate as chapters and have really good civilian team leaders as well, including a guy who was disabled by a spinal cord injury at 16.” McPheron has coordinated with companies including Microsoft, Starbucks and HTC (a Taiwanese consumer electronics company).
One memorable event McPheron worked on was LANFest for Building Homes for Heroes in Seattle. Founded in 2006, Building Homes for Heroes helps soldiers who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan by building or modifying homes, which are then gifted, mortgage-free, to the veterans and their families.
“I like to focus on the good we’ve done, rather than on myself as a disabled vet,” says McPheron. “From the very beginning I’ve had tremendous support from veterans and civilians who like to get hands on. OSD is set up for success. It’s been the best kind of therapy and I’ve made good friends. I know a double amputee who plays video games with his kids using his chin as the controller. I can’t be down when I see guys like him.”
Every year OSD Seattle plans community programs during the Christmas season. In December 2017, OSD Seattle volunteered to operate the Westlake Center Carousel for thousands of holiday shoppers to raise funds for Treehouse Foster Care Services. Treehouse helps youth in foster care through academic programs and by providing material needs as well as the childhood experiences every child deserves. “Treehouse does amazing work, and it was really cool to run the carousel,” McPheron said at the time. “A couple of thousand people came through in the six hours we were there, and everyone had a lot of fun helping out.”
In October 2017 members of OSD Seattle volunteered alongside GAEMS and Virtual Sports NW at the GE2 Conference at CenturyLink field in Seattle. “It was a great opportunity to return the favor to local companies that support our efforts,” said McPheron after the conference, “while also getting a chance to see innovative entertainment technology.” GE2 is popular with the Seattle-Tacoma military community. GAEMS has played a key role in the OSD supply drop program since 2011, providing gaming care packages to deployed soldiers as well as those recovering in military hospitals. Virtual Sports NW has served as a venue and partner for OSD Seattle to host WTB soldiers for Respawn VR (virtual reality) Therapy on a monthly basis. OSD’s Respawn program provides therapy through gaming, technology and innovation, supporting veterans, military medical facilities and WTB.
On December 19, 2017 OSD mobilized immediately when alerted about the tragic Amtrak train derailment on a bridge over Interstate 5 south of Tacoma. McPheron led OSD Northwest in providing food and blood donations to the Madigan Donation Center (MAMC) at Fort Lewis. “MAMC received over 20 victims. The facility was overwhelmed with donors, so our team delivered pizza for soldiers and staff on site,” McPheron reported to his OSD partners. “They were extremely grateful. Not only had most of them been working non-stop, they would be working very late. Some hot pizzas to get them through were definitely appreciated. I’m proud to have been part of today’s effort.” OSD Seattle also hosted a contest using social media to encourage members to donate at their local blood banks as well.
McPheron is proud of how veterans help each other. “Last year I went to Oregon with a group helping SFC Jason Koontz, who had recently retired. We fixed his house so he could sell it, move back home to Kentucky and begin his transition to civilian life with as little stress as possible. If someone from the military needs something, they can always reach out to groups like OSD. We will paint your house. If you’re stuck in wheelchair, we’ll fix your ramp. We always try to do what’s needed.”
Team Portland and Team Seattle joined forces in Sandy, Oregon to assist a soldier who had served multiple deployments, becoming one of the most qualified cold weather survival instructors in the military. His injuries and surgeries left him with limited mobility. Over two days the OSD teams put in more than 75 hours of work. “They showed up with smiles, like always,” says McPheron. Toiling under a blazing sun, OSD volunteers were grateful for the donation of energy drinks from Rip It Energy Fuel. “This was an amazing experience,” says McPheron. “We had teams coming together united for a worthy cause. Everyone put in some serious work. We were there to help a guy who can barely walk because he spent a decade kicking ass for his country. Everyone there wanted to help; even the little kids were constantly asking what they could do. When we took breaks, we sat around covered in sweat, drinking Rip Its, cracking jokes and telling stories. Moments like that, when you’re still having fun even though you’re sweaty, tired and sore, are some of my fondest memories from the military. These are the experiences you don’t forget.”
McPheron is grateful for the support of his OSD colleagues. “Glenn Banton gave me the opportunity to give back to the community I love. Ray Whitaker took me under his wing and taught me how to make the biggest impact possible. Scott Morrison has always been there for me, even when I just need to vent. Those three have been like father figures to me, collectively guiding and supporting me for over three years now.”
He adds, “My wife has also been nothing but supportive, no matter how crazy I get leading up to events. She cares about this team as much as anyone. During the times when I’ve thought I was at my breaking point, she kept me motivated. On the other side, we never could have done what we have without the tremendous effort of our community. We have countless active duty soldiers, veterans and civilians who have volunteered hundreds of hours. I may organize the events, but the people involved around me are the backbone of our efforts. They’re the ones that have made this community special and continually inspire me to find bigger and better ways to impact the soldiers and veterans we support.”
McPheron’s current plans involve starting a Respawn VR program in coordination with the Ft. Lewis WTB Adaptive Sports Clinic. “This program has been in the works for over a year and will be hosted on post,” says McPheron, “We will be working hand in hand with clinic therapists, focusing on providing physical therapy through Virtual Reality for soldiers recovering from injuries at the WTB. Next month we will present our Heroic Forces program to the WTB, taking on a larger role in the unit’s transition assistance for soldiers preparing to end their military careers.”
McPheron, his wife and son live just outside of Ft. Lewis. “The veterans and civilians I know really want to help the community. It’s great when everyone around you is so motivated.”