Working Women: Pride Winkenwerder

It's a moment of happiness in an otherwise miserable recovery.

Service members wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan struggling to heal get a visit from someone who can make them smile, even for a short time.

That's where Alexandria resident Pride Winkenwerder comes in. She's a former corporate VP who now is a full time artist with a gallery in Alexandria. But the life-changing moment came when she was attending a USO gala in 2003. She saw three young marines in dress uniform.

“One had lost a leg, one had lost an arm, and one had lost an eye,” she said. “The three of them were helping each other in.”

They reminded her of her father - a WWII veteran and POW. After talking with the Marines, Pride took the next day off from work and came up with a plan.

“I put myself in their place and quickly realized that the healing touch of a familiar face is always a good thing, and we could help bring that to their recuperation,” she said.

Her idea is now called "Hero Miles." In the past, only the mother or father would be flown to see a service member and it was only in the case of eminent death. But with Hero Miles, anyone can donate frequent flier miles, and the wounded vet decides who can fly out to see them.

“They're working hard, they're recuperating, they're working hard and they just deserve everything we can give them to help,” she said.

In the fall, Hero Miles will reach a milestone – 25,000 free airline tickets to service members.

Pride took an entire year teaming with airlines, military officials and Congress to make hero miles a reality. She received the highest medal from Secretary of Defense for a U.S. citizen.

But the most meaningful thanks was from a double amputee.

“He said ‘ma’am, do you mind if I give you a hug?’ And he got up, on his crutches - double crutches - and got someone to help him from his chair to wrap his arms around me,” she said. “And that is more of a thanks than you can ever express."

To learn how you can donate, click here.

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