Troop Appreciation Dinner: ‘A Chance To Be Normal’

Below is a guest column and photos from Althea Paul, Vistra Corporate Communications Manager. She coordinated news coverage of the Tampa Troop Appreciation Dinner for the sponsors, Freedom Alliance and Texas de Brazil.


Army 1st Lt. Victor Prato with his parents, Janet and Gregory.

It’s a Wednesday night, around dinnertime. U.S. Army 1st Lt. Victor Prato is enjoying a nice meal with his parents at Texas de Brazil in Tampa. It may sound typical for some, but this evening is so much more than dinner.

Prato is surrounded by other wounded service members, who like him, are being treated at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital. In total, about 60 service members and their families are there.

The 25-year-old is recovering from soft tissue injuries that, for now, have left him in a wheelchair. In November 2017, Prato was wounded while on patrol in Afghanistan after a suicide bomber drove into the vehicle carrying him and several others.  Prato is not sure if he will ever walk again.

“It’s always nice to be out of the hospital room,” said Prato. “It’s hard to lose your privacy, independence and ability to walk – all at the same time.”

More than 600 wounded service members and their families have dined at the Tampa Troop Appreciation Dinners.

That is one of the reasons the non-profit, Freedom Alliance hosts these Troop Appreciation Dinners, working with corporate sponsors, such as Texas de Brazil.  Held across the country, the dinners help service members take their minds off their rehab routine, by giving them a relaxing, fine dining experience with their loved ones.

“These service members and their families have sacrificed so much for all of us. It’s the least we can do to recognize them and show they are not forgotten,” said Tina Wholean with Freedom Alliance.

This was the twelfth Tampa Troop Appreciation Dinner – serving more than 600 service members.

Marine Staff Sgt. Gregory Dessert and his father, Gregory.

U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Gregory Dessert was glad he could attend.  Dessert travels once a week from Orlando to Tampa to rehabilitate from injuries sustained in August last year.  He fell from a 4-story building at Fort Meade, Maryland. He is paralyzed from the waist down and is now focused on becoming as independent as possible.

“It’s awesome to see the appreciation,” said Dessert. “Knowing what people are willing to spend the time to do, it’s a pretty good feeling.”

The dinners also are considered a step in the recovery process for injured service members.

“It’s nice to be here and to try to be normal again,” said Prato.

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