'Operation Helping Hand' Helps Families of Wounded War Vets
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2005 - A $10,000 check is a wonderful reward for doing something you'd do anyway without even thinking about being paid for your efforts.

Bob Silah, president of the Tampa Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America, said the association-sponsored "Operation Helping Hand" not only helps families of severely wounded combatants from Iraq and Afghanistan with living expenses, it even had a mechanic fix a lady's broken car. Photo by Rudi Williams (Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

That's how much money "Operation Helping Hand" was granted on June 20 as the first-place winner in the 2005 Newman's Own Awards competition. To enter, volunteer organizations were asked to present an innovative plan to improve the quality of life for the military community and receive funding to carry out the plans.

Judges selected 11 of 177 entries for top honors in the annual competition that's sponsored by Newman's Own, Fisher House Foundation and Military Times Media Group.

"Operation Helping Hand" garnered the top prize for lifting many burdens off the shoulders of 150 families of severely injured and wounded combatants from Iraq and Afghanistan being treated at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tampa, Fla. Sponsored by the Tampa Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America, the program ensures that families don't have to worry about food, car repairs, gasoline or other necessities of life so they can focus on their hospitalized loved one's recovery, according to Robert J. "Bob" Silah, president of the association's Tampa chapter. He accepted the award during Newman's Own ceremonies in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes.

"Operation Helping Hand just got started less than a year ago," said Silah, a retired Navy captain. "The idea came from the James A. Haley Hospital in Tampa. We got a call one day asking if the Military Officers Association would be interested in helping families of the wounded. I'd never thought about it. I took the request to our board of directors, and surprisingly, they were unanimous in giving me the authority to do this."

The association's first move was to launch a solicitation campaign