'Horses Helping Heroes' Among Recipients of Bob Hope Awards

Each Spirit of Hope award winner received a bas relief medal bearing the image of Bob Hope. PA2 Patrick Kelley/Coast Guard
Each Spirit of Hope award winner received a bas relief medal bearing the image of Bob Hope. PA2 Patrick Kelley/Coast Guard

They call it "horse therapy."

Exposure to horses and maybe even going on a ride can draw out veterans feeling cut off from their communities and possibly ease their post-traumatic stress.

At the Pentagon on Wednesday, the "Horses Helping Heroes Project," run by founder Debi Demick in the Hampton Roads, Virginia, area, was a recipient of the Defense Department's 2016 Spirit of Hope Award, named for legendary entertainer Bob Hope. Demick was nominated for the award by the Navy.

The Defense Department's choice for the award was country star and former American Idol contestant Kellie Pickler and her husband, songwriter Kyle Jacobs. Pickler and Jacobs entertained troops at more than 60 bases and on two aircraft carriers, said Deputy Secretary Bob Work, who presided at the ceremony.

Other recipients included Marc Tarter, who advocates for wounded Marine explosive ordnance disposal specialists; retired Army Col. Jennifer Pritzker, founder of the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, serving "citizen soldiers;" retired Coast Guard Cmdr. Michael Smith, who advocates for Coast Guard families in Michigan; and retired Air Force Master Sgt. Timothy Bryant, who has conducted outreach to more than 5,000 veterans and families in California through Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3000.

"Through their efforts, they embody the magnificent spirit of Bob Hope," Work said.

The late comedian and movie star was "a true American hero in our books," he said, citing Hope's nearly 50 years of entertaining troops on war fronts from World War II to the Persian Gulf.

Work quoted Hope as saying, "I hate war with all my guts, but I admire the guys with guts enough to fight them when they have to be fought."

Hope went on 57 tours to war zones and "always believed he got more out of it" than the troops he met along the way, Work said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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