“We’re all about healing.”
That is how Cherokee Nation citizen Kevin Phelps described Operation Enduring Respect, a nonprofit he started five years ago who’s mission is “to give back to the members of the Armed Forces who have offered their lives to protect ours,” according to the organization’s website.
Phelps, 58, serves as the director of operations for the organization that has taken more than 1,000 wounded veterans to college and NFL football games in the programs early years.
“Wounds are not only physical, but there are also mental wounds and trauma, and I’m trying to help make a difference in the lives of those who risk their lives,” Phelps said. “We’re helping these service members come out of their shell and get back into society.”
This weekend the organization is sending three Cherokee Nation citizens with Phelps to the Red River Showdown match between the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas on Saturday. There are also plans to take 25 veterans to the Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving game and possibly a trip to this year’s Super Bowl.
Phelps was raised around the military life and upon seeing close friends return from Iraq and Afghanistan changed decided to do something – co-starting OER in 2010 with Brian McKee.
Phelps’ father, William Gene Phelps, of Vinita, was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and served during World War II. While he was raised around Fort Sam Houston military base, his father and mother, Virginia Donoghue, also of Vinita, kept his Cherokee ties close.
“I love being Cherokee and am very proud to be Cherokee. I was raised to have a deep affection for the tribe and culture,” Phelps said. “With this nonprofit I knew I also had the chance to help wounded Cherokee and Native veterans, and so bringing those two together is very rewarding.”
In February, Dustin Butler, Cherokee Nation citizen and Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq, got the experience of a lifetime when Phelps informed him he’d be attending the Super Bowl for free. Butler, a Dallas fan, said he was rooting for the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots since his Cowboys didn’t make it.
“Our Cherokee warriors sacrifice so much to serve our country and for our freedom, so we’re grateful for everything that Operation Enduring Respect and fellow Cherokee Kevin Phelps does to honor them,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said.
Staff Sgt. Marvin Cochran, a U.S. Army veteran of Tahlequah, who went to Iraq twice and served in Afghanistan, is one of three Cherokees going to the Red River Rivalry game. His father, Jim Cochran, a Vietnam veteran, and RC Brashears, a Korean War veteran, are also planning to go.
“It’s great to get recognized,” Cochran said. “Without this program, we wouldn’t go to the games because of the cost or travel. It brings us together and helps us by seeing that others care about wounded veterans and veterans in general.”
For more information about Operation Enduring Respect, visit www.enduringrespect.com.