A plane carrying a group of combat-tested service members touched down in the desert on Wednesday morning.
Then it was time to suit up.
“Oh, man, I want the red one,” said Spc. Cleber Ferreira as he spotted the jacket. “Nah, I’ll go traditional. Like James Bond.”
The desert is Vegas. Suiting up meant getting fitted for tuxedos and gowns.
Ferreira — who suffered back, leg and head injuries when 400 pounds of explosives detonated beneath his Stryker vehicle in Afghanistan in 2010 — is part of a group of more than a dozen wounded warriors and their guests visiting Las Vegas with the USO to take part in NASCAR’s Champions Week celebration. On Thursday, they were to sit atop a double-decker bus and lead a parade of stock cars down Las Vegas Boulevard, better known as The Strip. Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski will perform a celebratory burnout and race teams will conduct pit stops in front of the Bellagio’s famed fountains.
On Friday, it’ll be time to break out the formalwear for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony at the Wynn, a swanky gala where, between performances from celebrity entertainers, NASCAR will honor the top 10 finishers in the points standings.
The wounded warriors — on a break from recovering at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, or Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland — were looking sharp during their trial run Wednesday at Tuxedo Junction and David’s Bridal in Las Vegas.
Lance Cpl. Nathan Jakubisin, whose right leg was amputated below the knee after an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan in June, initially worried that he might have to wear shorts with his tux because the pants wouldn’t fit over the metal fixator holding together his left leg.
“Maybe a kilt,” he quipped. “That’s a good idea.”
But with a pair of scissors, a little extra fabric and a sewing machine, the staff at Tuxedo Junction delivered a pair of custom-made pants.
And Ferreira? Well, he almost did look like James Bond. That is, if 007 wore a camo hat with his tuxedo.
—Story by Derek Turner, USO Senior Editor