Elizabeth Dole Foundation

Elizabeth Dole Foundation

By senior contributor Brendan Kownacki

“Military caregivers and their kids serve our nation by the millions,” said Tom Hanks, the prolific actor and Chair of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Hidden Heroes Campaign. “Together, they uphold our end of Lincoln’s pledge, to care for those who bear America’s greatest battles. And they do so at a tremendous personal cost.”

Tom Hanks

Hanks along with Today Show co-host Savannah Guthrie returned to Washington earlier this month to once again stand in support of military caregivers. The pair have become a yearly staple in The District, advocating for a more empathic and holistic attitude for how we approach the friends and families of military service members and veterans, often providing them with a critical care network.

Senator Elizabeth Dole established the foundation over a decade ago after caring for her late husband, and encountering challenges along the way, and people in the same circumstances as herself. She addressed the crowd in an uplifting video message and shared, “The growth of this caregiver movement – from the quiet hallways of Walter Reed to this grand hall tonight – is what gives me hope that our country will one day provide every hidden hero the support they need.”

Numerous caregivers from across the country joined the program on stage to lend their faces and stories to the message of support. A critical part of the stories shared through the evening was that we have reached a place where we know that service members and veterans might need people to aid them, but their caregivers may need that as well after taking on difficult and emotional challenges over time.

Tom Hanks and Savannah Guthrie

“By and large, a lot of veterans think they need to do it themselves, they’ve gotta suck it up. There’s only one person responsible for their kit bag and that’s them,” said Hanks talking about the personal burden some service members take on when asking for help. “The truth is, this is America, where we help each other.”

During the powerful evening, there were multiple performances by the musical act The War And Treaty, a husband and wife duo who knows these issues all too well, Michael deals with PSTD from his time in the service and his wife Tanya has always been by his side to help, and now they use music to share that story.

The War and Treaty

Also sharing stories was actor and advocate Jocko Sims who helped to introduce the hidden heroes who were on hand to share their experiences. During the program, the Foundation awarded retired Col. Jennifer Pritzker the Caregiver Ally Award for her outstanding support of military caregivers. It was also announced that the Pritzker Military Foundation on behalf of the Pritzker Military Museum & Library would be donating a $2 million challenge grant to support the Foundation’s mission, and the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation made a donation in the amount of $100,000 for the cause.

Jocko Sims

The culmination of the evening was the presentation of the Tom Hanks Caregiver Champion Award to actor and Marine Corps veteran Adam Driver.

Driver shared an enlightening and emotional reflection in response to getting the award. He talked about his time in the Marines and how after he left service, he attended Julliard and it was art that helped him contextualize his experiences in the military. Driver founded a non-profit that helped to promote artistic performances around the world to military members and he hoped that the cultural moments would have the same effect on others. “The Marine Corps, actually is similar to acting,” shared Driver. “It’s just another one of those organizations where you’ll be surrounded by people and feel totally alone…and only through community and communication, and you find a safety net sometimes.”

Adam Driver

Driver went on to describe his respect for the ceremonial aspect of the military, and Hanks and Guthrie stopped backstage to chat with reporters about the Foundation and the continued need to stand by veteran caregivers and tell their stories.

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