Fallen Soldier's Dad, Employer Rebuild Auto for Needy Vet

WATERLOO -- Brad Vaughn didn't have to think twice. Neither did his bosses.

Vaughn, who lost a son in Afghanistan in 2007, had an opportunity to help another Afghanistan and Iraq veteran down on his luck.

Progressive Insurance selected Vaughn and his employer, Rydell Chevrolet, to rebuild a totaled 2012 Chevrolet Captiva mid-size sport-utility vehicle for Brandon Hayden, a U.S. Army Afghanistan and Iraq war veteran of Davenport. Personal circumstances recently left him temporarily homeless and without a reliable automobile.

The initiative was part of a "Keys to Progress" program initiated by Progressive in 2013. It has donated 300 reconditioned vehicles to veterans and veteran families since then. When Progressive chose to help an Iowa veteran to help, it also offered an Iowa dealership, Rydell, the opportunity to participate in large part because of Vaughn, who manages Rydell's collision center. Vaughn's son, Travis, was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2007.

"We do a lot of work with Progressive, we've got a good relationship with them," Vaughn said. "What they did was get a total-loss car from their yard in Des Moines. And they picked it to suit the need of the veteran." Hayden, 33, has three school-age sons.

Vaughn said he wanted to be as good to Hayden as Rydell has been to him following his son's death.

"This is one big family," Vaughn said. "When I lost Travis, I was off for maybe five weeks." The dealership made sure he was provided for financially. His coworkers also were respectful.

"Jim Rydell (dealership owner) came back to talk to me and see how I was doing. I said 'Everybody treats me like family.' He said, 'Well, think about it, Brad. You're here just about as much time with your coworkers as you are with your family.' He's absolutely right. They just stood behind me on everything we thought we should do with military."

The dealership has supported Brad's wife Kandie's annual "Shower of Gifts" initiative to raise donations of personal items to residents of the Iowa Veterans Home in Travis' memory.

Mike Decker, a Progressive claims manager, said Hayden is the first Iowa veteran selected as a "Keys to Progress" recipient and Rydell the first Iowa dealership selected to do the work. "Knowing Brad's situation, we thought it'd be something they'd be interested in," Decker said.

"This was a deal that Progressive brought to us because they knew of Brad's history with Trav, and our support of veterans and veteran services over the past decade," said Matt Halbur, general manager of Rydell in Waterloo. "It wasn't even something that we had to think about. It was something that we jumped right on. This whole deal fell right into our wheelhouse in terms of what we like to do, and a group of people we like to help."

In addition to regular support of Kandie Vaughn's "Shower of Gifts," Rydell put a custom-designed "fallen soldier" motorcycle on display in 2012, which was raffled off to raise funds for that effort. The dealership also has donated proceeds from an annual July classic car show to the Retrieving Freedom service dog organization in Waverly and Cedar Valley Honor Flight.

Jim Rydell also donated a Jeep Wrangler fitted with disabled-accessible improvements by disabled veterans to Paralyzed Veterans of America, which was sold to raise money for that organization.

"Very veteran friendly," Vaughn said. LKQ Corp.'s Nashville, Tenn. location and the AutoPlus auto parts store in Evansdale helped with the restoration project on Hayden's new vehicle. It also was checked by Rydell's service department.

"We make sure all our vehicles are right, but we really went over this with a fine tooth comb because of who it was going to," Halbur said.

Rydell representatives will present the vehicle to Hayden Thursday at Progressive's St. Louis service center. He will be one of more than 100 veterans receiving vehicles through the initiative. Decker said Hayden also will receive about $10,000 worth of furniture and other household items donated by Progressive.

In a letter to Progressive, Hayden -- recently divorced with shared custody and needing a dependable vehicle in which to transport his sons -- wrote: "I have to be honest and say it's more in my heart to ask for the vehicle for my children's sake than mine ... . As a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, it truly impacts my heart to know that people are paying it forward in such a manner ... thank you from the bottom of my heart and my family's for all that you have done and will continue to do."

He noted his sons want to go to a Chicago Cubs baseball game. ___

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This article was written by Pat Kinney from Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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