Northern Illinois University junior Communications major Richard Bennett–a former Army serviceman from Homer Glen who risked his life to save another’s during battle–is among 90 finalists for Major League Baseball and People Magazine’s “Tribute for Heroes” campaign.
The DeKalb resident served in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, and during a deployment to Afghanistan, his unit came under fire on a daily basis. While on an air assault mission to the Korengal Valley, Bennett ran 35 meters through heavy enemy fire and threw himself on the platoon’s fallen medic to shield him from further wounds.
Heavy fire continued all around as he pulled his fellow soldier to cover. That soldier is now recovering.
For his actions, Bennett was awarded the Silver Star. He says he only did what any of his fellow infantrymen would have done but is thankful for the spotlight the program puts on the service of the nation’s military personnel.
“The program’s biggest plus in my eyes is that it brings to light the sacrifices that our country’s veterans have made and more importantly the sacrifices that they continue to make in order to support our veterans and our nation as a whole,” Bennett says.
In addition to pursuing his degree, Bennett is vice president of the NIU Veteran’s Club. Through his service in the club, he provides support to veteran students through educational and social opportunities. As part of its leadership team, he advises and advocates for veteran students.
He works with the local VFW and American Legion to support local veterans in addition to his work with military veteran students on campus, and he hopes to work with the Wounded Warriors Project following graduation.
“Rich Bennett is an perfect example of the American soldier and a model for military veterans who, after the completion of service, return to NIU for their education,” explains Todd Latham, faculty advisor for the NIU Veteran’s Club. “Rich’s wealth of knowledge and experience makes him a leader on campus and in the classroom. He is great role model and mentor to fellow service men and women.”
“I always loved it here,” says Bennett of the school he attended before joining the Army and returned to after. “I think that NIU and more specifically the Military Student Services office does a great job in support veterans in any way they need it. I look forward to being an NIU graduate.”
NIU was ranked in the top 50 “Best for Vets” four-year colleges in the country by Military Times Magazine for 2013, and G.I. Jobs recognized NIU with Military Friendly School status for 2013 as one of the top 15 percent of schools nationwide that deliver the best experience for military students.
One winner from each of the 30 MLB teams will be included in the All-Star week festivities and recognized in pregame ceremonies leading up to the 2013 All-Star Game at New York’s Citi Field airing July 16 on FOX. The “Tribute for Heroes” winner will be featured in the July 22 issue of People, which will hit newsstands July 12.
Fans are encouraged to visit TributeForHeroes.com to view the full list of finalists and to vote on their favorite stories through June 30. Bennett is one of three that could represent the Cubs.
“I am very honored to be considered for the tribute to heroes initiative. I think it’s a great program that MLB and People have put together,” Bennett adds. “While I would be extremely proud and happy to represent the Cubs at the All Star game, I would be just as proud and happy for either of the other two worthy candidates.”
Along with MLB and People Magazine, a panel that included General Peter W. Chiarelli (retired) and General John M. “Jack” Keane (retired) alongside MLB players Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, Nick Swisher of the Cleveland Indians, Barry Zito of the San Francisco Giants, Jonny Gomes of the Boston Red Sox, Brad Ziegler of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres and Craig Stammen of the Washington Nationals assisted in the selection process for the 90 finalists.
The “Tribute for Heroes” campaign supports Welcome Back Veterans (welcomebackveterans.org), an initiative of Major League Baseball, and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, which addresses the needs of veterans after they return from service. Major League Baseball has committed more than $23 million for grants to hospitals and clinics that provide post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) treatment to veterans and their families in a public/private partnership with “Centers of Excellence” at university hospitals throughout the country.