Bringing Heroes Together
Writer(s): Matt Holden
The first time Chris Bowser got to meet one of his favorite comedians, Dane Cook, was purely because of his insatiable curiosity. Bowser had been following Cook’s Twitter account in the hopes of getting into contact with him. Cook tweeted about a way to get into touch with him via an instant messaging service, and Bowser went for it. Much to his surprise, the famous comedian quickly responded and was eager to meet up with Bowser.
A few months later, Bowser had gotten tickets to one of Cook’s shows and went backstage in the hopes of actually getting to meet the man behind the jokes. Here he encountered a security guard watching over the area, where he reluctantly explained to the guard who he was and how he had previously spoken to Cook about meeting up. Within 15 minutes, Bowser found himself backstage with the man he had so eagerly hoped to meet, talking about the show and the war in Iraq like old friends.
This meet and greet would be the first of many for Bowser, who has used his experience serving in the military to help lay down the groundwork for an up-and-coming non-profit organization intended to set up injured war veterans with their favorite celebrities: Heroes Meeting Heroes.
On Dec. 8, 2003, a convoy of US army troops was making its way down an Iraqi highway. Escorting the troops were four US military trucks, two going with the flow of traffic and two going against it. The task at hand was pretty simple: escort the foot soldiers to their destination safely. As they progressed down the highway, the soldiers were relaxed, taking note of the scenery around them in case anything looked threatening. Some soldiers noticed Iraqi civilians hanging out in the highway’s median; a couple of them were smoking hookah, as if the multitude of cars flying by them at high speeds weren’t there. As the soldiers were discussing the strange behavior on the highway, an explosion ripped through the area, engulfing the troops in scrap and debris.
In one of the US army trucks traveling against the flow of traffic sat Bowser, who had been assigned the role of a gunner in the mission. After the blast, Bowser lay stranded atop the truck, unable to escape the enemy’s line of fire due to the copious amount of shrapnel that had collected in his legs. “As soon as the first ‘Oh, this isn’t a normal moment’ happened, everything was in slow motion, sort of like you see in a video game when you get hit. Everything just slows down,” Bowser says.
Thanks to the help of his comrades, Bowser was able to get off the top of the truck and onto the ground, where he would immediately be treated and then flown away for the army’s medical staff to assess the situation and help repair Bowser’s battered legs.
Though the scars will forever remind Bowser of what transpired during his time in Iraq, they now serve a different function. They remind Bowser of all of those who weren’t as fortunate as he was when he left the war and how he is striving to help lift their spirits and give them a chance to meet some of the people they admire. “I get to go out there and have it pretty easy, but there’s people out there who don’t have it as easy as I do that could really use a pick-me-up. I can say that, on behalf of doing it, it’s a cool experience to see someone perform and then afterwards see them and think, ‘Hey you’re a real person,’ you know? You’re more than just what I see on TV,” Bowser says.
Heroes, as Bowser abbreviates the organization, can trace its creation back to the second time Bowser was able to meet one of his idols, Tom Morello, and realized there was potential to meet a lot of famous people. A friend told him that he should make his habit of getting in touch with these high-profile people bigger than himself and that it could possibly benefit a lot of people.
Bowser credits much of his initial work on the project to Twitter, which enabled him to get in touch with many people that he wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. “I’ve done a lot of my ground work via Twitter. I tell people that Twitter is cool if you’re really into someone and want to know what they’re doing; but otherwise, it’s kind of silly unless you have a cool cause that you’re trying to promote, in which case it gives you the chance to plead your case in 140 characters to anybody,” Bowser says, “because pretty much everyone is on Twitter, or someone who knows someone has a Twitter.”
Using the social networking site as a communication tool has led Bowser to get in contact with some very interesting people. Recently, he has been in touch with the management team of Sean Combs, aka P. Diddy. “He posted something on Twitter, so I followed the manager; and I said, ‘Hey, I started a non-profit for vets, here’s the link. You and Diddy can help.’ And he wrote back saying that yes, yes they could,” Bowser says.
With the number of veterans showing interest in the program, as well as the number of celebrities, Bowser knew he needed to get some help in setting up the organization for a mass audience. Luckily, Bowser has found that aid in friends who have been inspired by his action and want to give back.
In 2006, Don Wethington met Bowser while working at Best Buy in Muncie. One day at work, Chris Bowser brought up the idea of Heroes Meeting Heroes, and Wethington, a Ball State alumnus, was instantly intrigued. He asked to be a part of the project. Today, Wethington’s official title is co-founder and vice president of Heroes, but in his own description, his real role is simply to help Bowser any way he can. “In my eyes, Chris has already done enough, so I pretty much try to do anything I can to keep most of the pressure and work off of his shoulders,” Wethington says. As someone who has no real experience in the military, Wethington says his willingness to help comes from the desire he has to give thanks to those who have served. “First and foremost, we’re doing this to help injured vets, specifically purple hearts,” Wethington says. “Seeing the look on their faces after they have an experience with Heroes is priceless; these guys deserve it more than anybody.”
When the two formed this partnership a few years ago, they understood that in order for Heroes to achieve the types of goals they wanted it to, some steps would have to be made so that they could draw attention to the program. “It’s getting to the point right now where I’m afraid the website might crash at any minute because of the growing number of traffic it keeps getting. This is the calm before the storm,” Bowser says.
Before the storm strikes, Bowser and Wethington are working on making the program tax exempt for those who donate and support Heroes. It is for tasks like this that Wethington was brought in, as well as to cope with the constant communication with veterans and celebrities. After having been laid off from his job a few months ago, he has been able to put all of his time and energy into getting Heroes off the ground and into a place of national recognition. “In a lot of ways I guess me getting laid off was a blessing in disguise because it has given me more time to focus strictly on Heroes,” Wethington says.
Ideally, Bowser and Wethington hope to have offices set up both state and nationwide, which will help coordinate each state’s veterans, as well as local celebrities and artists. While their aspirations are high, the men behind Heroes Meeting Heroes have already seen a lot of support from some of the most sought-after icons for veterans, such as members of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). “I started putting out some feelers on Twitter to UFC fighters because we had a lot of requests to meet those guys, and now I’ve taken vets to UFC fights in Indy and even recently was able to fly a vet out to Boston for a fight,” Wethington says.
Like Bowser, Wethington credits Twitter for allowing him to get in touch with certain people that he would never have been able to communicate with otherwise. “I’ve learned that there are essentially loopholes to everything, and simply finding the correct person to talk to is the hardest part, but it really opens the right doors,” Wethington says.
With Wethington and Bowser constantly networking and helping veterans meet the people they admire, there was need for someone to handle the business side of the project. With that need came Chris Ellison, the owner of the downtown Muncie bar The Silo.
“I met Chris months ago; and when he explained to me the concept and idea of Heroes Meeting Heroes, I thought it was phenomenal and wanted to jump on board,” Ellison says. As a self-labeled consultant of the project, Ellison has been tasked with allocating funds and setting up the structure of the organization. Recently, Ellison helped to set up a non-profit file with the state, which will give Heroes a tax identification number, thus legitimizing what was once a simple idea into a state-approved non-profit organization. “How this whole thing has morphed has been incredible,” Ellison says. “I see this getting as big as the need for it is. Really, we’re the puppet masters behind this organization aimed at helping people.”
With Heroes coming together to form a more cohesive project, Bowser has sought help from places near and far. In November, he took a trip to meet with the foundation The Mission Continues, an organization that connects veterans with opportunities to volunteer and give back through community service. “Meeting with The Mission Continues was sort of an eye-opening experience for me because I was able to see how much of an effect service projects can be; and really, that is something that could absolutely become a part of Heroes,” Bowser says.
Before he starts opening more doors for his project, Bowser is turning to Ball State and Cardinal Communications to help the project on the public relations front. Bowser hopes to have a revamped website to go along with an overall improved branding for Heroes. “With so many resources this close by at Ball State and with people who are looking for some project to work, it just makes sense for me to bring this great idea that has been getting so much good feedback to the school,” Bowser says. “I mean, ideally, President Gora and everyone else will see what we’re doing and want to get involved, because things are going to start moving really fast and really soon,”
With new seeds being planted everyday, Heroes Meeting Heroes continues to grow, giving more and more veterans the chance to meet people they look up to and share an experience with them. Bowser says he has future plans for Heroes that could help create a more immersive experience; but at the moment, he is consumed with turning what was once an idea into a reality. “I’ve thought about having concerts for vets where musicians would come as part of the program, and I’ve also talked to musicians like Bassnectar who suggested doing workshops on working with electronic music for veterans who are interested in that,” Bowser says. “There are so many different directions we can potentially go that, at this point, the sky really is the limit.” Return to top