(Midland, Texas – November 25, 2012)
Participants in the Midland, Texas Professional Armed Forces Rodeo Association’s World Finals Rodeo at the Midland County Horseshoe Arena Saturday and Sunday performed more to help their fellow armed services members than for prize money, as the event turned into a massive fundraiser to benefit the victims of the November 15 Midland parade train accident that killed four and injured 16 during the city’s annual “Show of Support/Hunt for Heroes” celebration that turned tragic when a Union Pacific freight train smashed into a semi-trailer/float carrying veterans and their wives.
The PAFRA donated 20% of all ticket sales to the victims and survivors, while a number of associated fundraisers and donation collection containers could be found on the rodeo grounds.
“It’s been a big game changer for us,” said PAFRA President R.J. Eppers, a U.S. Air Force Technical Sgt., bull rider, bareback rider and chute dogging participant. “We’re not looking to make a dollar off the event for us,” adding that “We want to help heal the community and work on helping the families.”
Team roper and bull rider U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Rusting Nobinger, who is stationed at Fort Hood in El Paso, TX, said “It’s a horrible thing (the accident). We hope we can help the families. When you see someone that needs your help, you want to do something for them, especially if they’re a veteran.”
While a special tribute to the victims was given at the beginning of each performance, native Midlander and United States Marine Corps veteran Adam Pollard put on a “freestyle reining” (horses dancing to musical accompaniment) demonstration in the middle of each session. A World Champion bareback rider himself in 1995, the fact that the tragedy occurred in his own home town made the situation more difficult for Pollard.
“It broke my heart,” lamented Pollard. “Those were some of the bravest men to ever set foot on foreign lands. This (the rodeo) is following a huge tragedy. But we’ll get through it, and I hope I do them proud.”
“I read about how the veterans who were on the float again sacrificed themselves so others can live,” remarked U.S. Army Major Paul Brittain, stationed at Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs, CO. “It proves and reinforces the sacrifices a soldier makes every day.”
USAF Lt. Col. Val Baker, who is also vice president of PAFRA, said “It’s the right thing to do, what we tried to do: provide a place to heal, start the healing process,” but added “to have it be fellow veterans and something that was supposed to be celebratory with “Show of Support,” it’s tragic!”