Last fall I began photographing the Wounded Warriors Disabled Sports project for Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA). I’ve done a couple now, and each one’s been an uplifting experience. Last weekend I was in New York City for another, and this may have been the best.

On Thursday of last week close to forty servicemen and women who’ve been injured in Iraq and Afghanistan gathered at a firehouse on Staten Island for the start of the sixth annual Adaptive Water Sports Festival. While the purpose of the weekend is to introduce these veterans to sports such as waterskiing, sailing, kayaking and scuba diving, it’s much more than that. Thanks to a great bunch of volunteers from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), and the community of Rockaway Point, it’s a long

Veterans riding in the back of a fire truck are greeted to Rockaway. Photo copyright Reed Hoffmann.

weekend of giving thanks to these brave men and women who’ve been injured serving their country. And the start of it all is not just a parade, but a welcome home and thanks parade.

Thankfully, our country learned from Vietnam that U.S. soldiers who’ve been sent to fight are simply doing their job, and trying to uphold the high standard of our country at the same time. Most of those returning now are welcomed home with open arms and celebrations. However, those injured often miss those homecomings. When they come home it’s moving from one hospital to another, away from the men and women they served with. Realizing that, members of the FDNY decided that they needed a parade. And what a parade! For nearly an hour the caravan traveled the roads from State Island to Rockaway Point,

Closing night block party. Photo copyright Reed Hoffmann.

passing firemen, New York police officers and spectators lining the roadway to salute and cheer them.

Arriving in Rockaway, they were greeted by thousands of people who gathered to welcome them, not just to the town, but to their homes. It’s become a tradition for families there to take in the soldiers, and their spouses and children, for the weekend. And that was the best part of the entire event. Sure, the activities were great, and there was a lot of fun and learning. But what I’ll always remember were the friendships I saw, the bonds that formed between the soldiers and those families. And that’s the kind of welcome home that benefits everyone.