For Shanda Taylor Boyd, a retired Army veteran, dancing at the front of the conga line and on stage with other service members at the Invincible Spirit Festival May 24 at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, Md., was a way for her to show hope to other wounded, ill and injured service members that their lives aren’t over after they’re first hurt.
“The day that we’re injured we call it our ‘alive day,’ mine was on May 22,’” Boyd said, recalling the car accident she was in 2004 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord that led to her retirement from the Army. “What we think will destroy us — our military training prepares us not to quit and not to give up. We not only pick ourselves up, but we somehow manage to encourage others and empower others along the way.”
Boyd was one of several people who attended the festival, a biennial party sponsored by the Gary Sinise Foundation and USO Metro, the weekend before Memorial Day as a way to remember the sacrifices made by the service members.
“We are just wanting people who are going through their various stages of recovery here to know that we recognize what they’re going through,” Sinise said. “We appreciate that they’ve served our country and we do not forget them.”
He shared that some of his family members are Vietnam War veterans, they were forgotten and that period was a difficult time for service members.
“I don’t want our people to ever feel like they’re forgotten or they’re unappreciated for what they’ve been through and they’ve sacrificed a lot — life and limb,” Sinise said. “And their family should know that we recognize that and we want to help in whatever way we can.”
Celebrity chef Robert Irvine helped prepare the food with Operation BBQ Relief. Five smokers were prepping the meat the day before the festival. Irvine also emceed the rib-eating challenge that Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Evans, a dermatology resident, won. Evans is a returning champion after winning at the last festival.
“I was unsure because usually I do chicken wings and I didn’t know how tender the ribs would be. It was definitely a lot more food, definitely more fun because it was a lot messier,” Evans said.
The festival also included music from bands Stolen Silver and Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band.
Before the Lt. Dan Band got on stage, Capt. Marvin Jones, Naval Support Activity Bethesda commanding officer, thanked all who helped make the festival happen and then fired up the crowd.
“So, I hope you’re ready to party,” Jones said, as he invited the crowd to get on their feet. “I don’t think you heard me. I said, I hope you’re ready to party. I hope you’re ready to jam. I hope you’re ready to get down.”