Bound by a sense of duty The power of a bake sale Still proud to serve
PATRICK BURNS Record Express Staff
, Staff Writer
Iraq War veteran Brandon Porinchak is a hero to many, but who are the heroes of a hero?
Touching the heart of this wounded warrior was a Lititz neighbor, 10-year-old Lauren Reinhart, who he never knew until they crossed paths at a small bake sale at a local hardware store. Sometimes that’s all it takes to inspire a hero, and to reassure him that the sacrifices were not in vain.
Here are the stories of Lauren and Brandon, two neighbors from two generations, heroes in their own right:
Lauren Reinhart juggles a schedule dominated by basketball, soccer, swimming, some lacrosse, piano, cooking, and seemingly endless activities.
"Playing sports are my favorite things to do," the 10-year-old said while squeezing in an interview before an evening basketball practice.
But Lauren paused recently to prioritize a pair of other passions – honoring her family and supporting injured military heroes.
The fifth grade Kissel Hill Elementary School student sought to honor her two grandfathers, one of whom recently passed away.
Since both served in the military (the U.S. Marine Corps and Army) Lauren decided to honor them by raising money for Pennsylvania Wounded Warrior Project.
"I decided to help the Wounded Warriors to honor injured soldiers and my grandfather, to benefit him and make him feel proud of me," Lauren said.
She organized a benefit bake sale in the Bomberger’s Store lobby, earning $462 on Oct. 26.
"I was excited to help injured soldiers, and to know my grandfather was looking down at me and he was happy that I was doing it," Lauren said.
The sale featured Lauren’s cakes and baked goods made by her mother Betty Joe, father Jason, her Aunt Annie, and other relatives.
"We are proud that our 10-year-old found a way – on her own – to help wounded soldiers from all military branches," Betty Joe said.
Lauren’s father noted that the Wounded Warrior project was an interesting choice considering it was established after she was born.
Established in 2006, the Pennsylvania Wounded Warrior Project helps injured military and their families with medical emergencies and financial assistance.
"When we looked at (Wounded Warrior) we agreed this is the one," he said. "It is great that it is an organization that helps a lot of injured military who have fought to protect this country during Lauren’s lifetime."
WWP does not pay credit card bills, car payments, or make direct payments to the wounded, except in the most unusual circumstances.
The project helps wounded military with home repairs, utility payments, short term rent or mortgage payments, medical bills and medical equipment not covered under current government programs.
While helping to ease financial burdens is the primary focus of WWP, the group also visits military hospitals and outpatient facilities to thank all wounded warriors for their service.
Lauren met Brandon Porinchak, an Iraq War veteran and member of WWP, who was especially touched by her efforts.
"I am just so pleased to have met Lauren and her family," Brandon said. "They seem like a wonderful group of people. It is my honor to have met Lauren, and if there is anything I can do for her in the future it would be my pleasure."
Brandon’s comments were like icing on the cake for Lauren that day.
"He thanked me for what I was doing, and that makes me feel good knowing I’m helping him and lots of other people," Lauren said.
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Brandon Porinchak served more than a decade in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and endured numerous attacks along the deadly roads in and around Baghdad.
Like generations of war veterans before him, Porinchak, 34, of Lititz, is reluctant to discuss the fire-fights and explosions that stationed him among the ranks in the Pennsylvania Wounded Warrior Project.
But he’ll happily explain why WWP is a lifesaver for many injured veterans and why he chose to serve his country.
Most notably, Brandon served to maintain a way of life that generations of veterans assured for him and to guarantee the same freedoms for his own growing family.
"I strongly believe in public service, so this was (for me) the logical outlet to fulfill my desires," Porinchak said. "The notion of helping others is very important to me."
With that said, it’s no surprise that Brandon’s heart was touched on Oct. 26 when he noticed 10-year-old Lauren Reinhart organizing a baked goods sale at Bomberger’s Store to benefit WWP.
Brandon offered a heart-felt thank-you to Lauren, whose sale raised $462 for WWP.
That occurred just three days before his wife Kerry delivered their son Sawyer, who joined brothers Kaleb, 7, and Sullivyn, 4, in the world.
No doubt a heartening couple of days even for Brandon, who knows a little about inspiration, courage and dedication.
"At her age, she can be doing anything on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon," Porinchak said. "But instead, she dedicated her time to raising money for veterans she will likely never meet."
Porinchak, a 1998 graduate of Northern Hills High School in Pittsburgh, joined the 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq after attending Slippery Rock University.
"That’s where I met (wife) Kerry, who is originally from Lititz and why we settled here," he said.
Brandon served as a sergeant at the height of the Iraq War, working in Baghdad from November 2003 to April 2005.
While he would complete a master’s degree in management training in 2011 from Temple University, he spent much of the prior decade managing weapons as a Humvee turret gunner traveling dangerous Iraqi roadways.
Brandon supported 50 convoy detail missions where he manned an M2 Browning .50 caliber machine gun and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) while always on the lookout for remotely detonated IEDs.
His primary responsibility as a voice and data communications specialist changed quickly, as many things do in combat.
"(The role) evolved into lead combat lifesaver and rear Humvee weapons gunner as a result of our need to provide operational security for command convoys in the Baghdad area of operations," Brandon said.
He sustained numerous injuries while accumulating abundant commendations that include Combat Action Badge, War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Army Commendation Medal (3), Army Achievement Medal (4), Armed Forces Service Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal (2), Armed Forces Reserve Medal with M Device, and Army Reserve Components Overseas Training Ribbon.
Brandon could have easily settled down for a life outside of public view after he completed copiously decorated tours of duty.
But that was never an option for Brandon, who was helped by WWP after returning from war with injuries to his head, neck, spine and back from repeated attacks.
He also sustained wounded knees and PTSD effects.
"Wounded Warrior Project is amazing," he said. "They are an incredibly supportive organization dedicated to supporting America’s most recent generation of warriors."
Brandon noted WWP’s vast number of programs that "treat the variety of visible and invisible wounds … and make living with these wounds much easier for thousands of our nation’s heroes."
He said WWP recently called with happy birthday well-wishes.
"I cannot speak highly enough of (WWP)," he said.
Brandon, who earned a master’s degree in community and regional planning from Temple University in 2011, has worked with the Lancaster County Planning Commission and as planning and zoning director for Elizabethtown Borough.
In 2011, Brandon launched a new career and travels roads these days to Philadelphia as a Presidential Management Fellow in the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
He shined among a field of more than 9,100 applicants, to be one of 10 selected for the prestigious two-year fellowship.
Brandon currently works with a variety of U.S. government agencies, such as the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Defense, Homeland Security, and EPA.
He attributed much of his success to his parents, who instilled a sense of duty to "one’s self and to one’s country" and a belief that everyone is responsible to serve their community in one way or another.
"Aside from the military, I have worked at the municipal, county, state, and now federal level of government," he said.
"In this day and age of sequestration and government shutdowns, I am still proud to serve my country. I feel it is an honor to have the opportunity to give back to a nation that has given so much."
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