[media-credit name=”Gary Buchanan” align=”alignright” width=”222″][/media-credit]This weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kurt Busch is not just driving on Goodyear tires. He is also piloting the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing on angel’s wings, in memory of fallen soldier Joseph Altmann.
“My husband Joseph, Staff Sergeant U.S. Army, was a combat medic,” Nikki Altmann said. “He did six years of service and, while in Afghanistan this year, enlisted for another four years.”
“We got married in February 2011 and he deployed in April,” Altmann continued. “And on Christmas day of 2011 is when he was killed in Afghanistan.”
Nikki Altmann’s journey had just begun as a widow of a service member killed in action. And for her it became one of the loneliest journeys of her life, that is until she learned of the Armed Forces Foundation program to honor fallen soldiers.
“We flew to Dover Air Force Base to welcome him home,” Altmann said. “The funeral happened and he was buried in Wisconsin, which is where he was from.”
“It was really shocking, especially because you don’t expect it,” Altmann continued. “You read about it but you never think it can happen to you.”
“It’s been a crazy road,” Altmann said. “And then Armed Forces Foundation sent out a tweet about honoring a fallen soldier.”
“One of my dear friends responded and asked to submit Joe’s name,” Altmann continued. “We didn’t think we would be chosen, but last week I got a call that Joe had been selected.”
“My family got on the phone looking up flights to get here,” Altmann, who is from Texas, said. “It was so worth it. I cried all morning when I saw the car. It’s such an honor to remember Joe in this way.”
“It’s amazing what the Armed Forces Foundation does,” Altmann said. “I’m so glad that we got to come and do this because this is a fun way to remember someone.”
“My husband was that kind of person,” Altmann continued. “He was a NASCAR fan.”
“He didn’t have a favorite driver because he liked all of them,” Altmann said. “He thought they were all cool and that the sport was fascinating to watch these cars go at these speeds.”
“My dad’s a big fan as well so I grew up around it,” Altmann continued. “A lot of Joe’s buddies watch NASCAR and follow Kurt on Twitter.”
“ So, why not send a message in a way that’s fun, informative and gets so much attention,” Altmann said. “It’s wonderful.”
“It really has helped me heal.”
[media-credit name=”Patricia Driscoll, President and Executive Director of the Armed Forces Foundation.” align=”alignright” width=”227″][/media-credit]Healing for families who have lost loved ones due to military service, as well as helping wounded warriors and bringing troops to the NASCAR track is what the Armed Forces Foundation is all about. AFF is also on a mission to call attention to the dangers of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) as well as addressing the high suicide rate among soldiers and veterans.
“We run the Troops to the Track with NASCAR, so we bring troops here every week,” Patricia Driscoll, President and Executive Director of the Armed Forces Foundation, said. “We want to remind people that there are wounded service members everywhere throughout the country.”
“There are service members who are suffering from PTSD, as well as family members who have lost loved ones because of their military service,” Driscoll continued. “This is really important to us.”
“Our Foundation is very involved with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries,” Driscoll said. “When a service member is wounded, the families drop everything so they really do need help. Our Foundation takes care of mortgages and car payments so that families don’t have to worry.”
“The suicide rate in the military is alarming,” Driscoll continued. “We had 155 active duty service members take their lives in 154 days.”
“Time magazine recently put out an article that said we are losing one service member a day and every 90 minutes, a veteran is taking his life,” Driscoll said. “None of those numbers are acceptable.”
“I think this is why this push is so important to both Kurt and I,” Driscoll continued. “We try to get people to understand what PTSD is all about and what depression is all about. You cannot wait to get help and we are doing everything we can to try to help.”
Driscoll admitted that the combination of AFF, NASCAR and bringing troops to the track is a perfect one.
“NASCAR has always been a very patriotic sport,” Driscoll said. “I was brought in by the Aaron’s Corporation at Talladega to be the grand marshal because of our work and after that I thought, I have missed the most patriotic sport I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“It just blows my mind how patriotic the sport is and I realized this is where we need to be involved,” Driscoll continued. “To have over 100,000 people show up is a great place to spread our message.”
Because of their commitment to the military and NASCAR, both Driscoll and Altmann shared their disappointment in the news that the U.S. Army was pulling out of their NASCAR sponsorship next year.
“It’s sad to see the Army is pulling out,” Altmann said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
“But for Kurt and them to stand up and say even though the Army is leaving, we’re going to step up is amazing,” Altmann continued. “He is showing me that I’m not alone.”
“I think they bowed down to the media pressure,” Driscoll said of the Army retreat from the sport. “I think it was ridiculous.”
“This is the group they recruited from and this is the group that is really patriotic,” Driscoll continued. “So, why would you not want to be there?”
“I think the exposure they get in NASCAR they cannot get anywhere else.”
But for this one race weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the NASCAR exposure was simply about paying tribute to one U.S. Army Staff Sergeant and helping his widow and family remember him in one of the most unique ways possible.
“I am so honored by this,” Altmann said. “We’re here not to promote anything but to honor someone in a really fun way.”
“Joe’s personality was like this,” Altmann continued. “He was a fun person.”
“To be able to see the Kurt’s car in the garage and on the track, I just said, ‘Come on Joe, carry him on your wings.”
“Let him get to that Victory Lane.”