UNH's Operation Hat Trick program gets national boost
The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester
DURHAM, N.H. — When Dana Bowman parachutes onto Cowell Field on Saturday to deliver the game ball for the UNH-William & Mary football game, he will wear a standard jump suit, which includes a helmet.
But don't expect the retired Army sergeant first class, a double amputee who is now a motivational speaker, to be on the ground too long before he changes headgear.
"Definitely, the minute he arrives he'll have an Operation Hat Trick hat on," said Dot Sheehan, an associate athletic director at UNH.
Bowman lost both his lower legs when he collided with another skydiver while training as a member of the Army's elite Golden Knights parachute team, according to his website, danabowman.com. He went on to re-enlist and retired in 1996. He is expected to speak to the UNH football team today.
Sheehan knows about motivation. Four years after she started giving UNH caps to soldiers wounded in combat, her effort has gone national.
As of this week, 99 colleges and universities have signed on to Operation Hat Trick, which is run by the UNH athletic department. The effort dedicates some of the proceeds of the sale of caps to organizations that help wounded servicemen and women.
Operation Hat Trick is dedicated to Nate Hardy, son of UNH professor Steve Hardy, and Nate's good friend Mike Koch. The younger Hardy and Koch fought together, died together and are buried near each other in Arlington National Cemetery.
Universities from around the country — including big names such as Notre Dame, North Carolina, Kansas, Brigham Young and Nebraska — are on board.
Sheehan started distributing hats after she heard a 2007 radio broadcast about soldiers who experienced head wounds. They most wanted hats to help cover burns, wounds and other scars.
She has visited Walter Reed National Military Medical Center four times to distribute caps. During her last trip, she was able to distribute hats with logos from dozens of schools.
"When you see these guys, you know exactly why you're doing it," Sheehan said. "It makes them feel good for 10 minutes, and they like hats."
Thousands of Operation Hat Trick hats have been sold over the last four years, and this year Sheehan delivered a check for "a couple thousand dollars" to the VA General Post Fund, which supports patient care efforts for patients in VA medical centers across the country.
She said the donation was small because Operation Hat Trick expanded to other universities only early this year. Sales, and proceeds, should explode as universities bring the purchasing power of their students, alumni and supporters into Operation Hat Trick.
Hats range from $19.95 to $24 and come in three styles: camouflage, university colors and mesh. Each has the college logo in the front and Operation Hat Trick logo in the back. Sheehan said college students, veterans and supporters of the military are the most likely buyers.
As the program grows in popularity, she hopes to expand to other clothing, such as matching T-shirts and caps. And Operation Hat Trick will start funding other organizations that provide care to wounded servicemen and women.
Meanwhile, some universities are dedicating the royalties they receive from the sales to scholarships for wounded warriors, Sheehan said.
"We're really interested in the recovery, education and future recovery of a wounded veteran," she said.