FAIRFIELD — Six Flags Discovery Kingdom kicked off its Fourth of July festivities on Thursday, honoring five men who were injured while serving their country. Their caregivers were also feted.
The theme park partnered with Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit dedicated to assisting military families experiencing hardship, to honor the men and their families.
Operation Homefront works with the soldier. Hearts of Valor, one of its programs, assists the family members providing care to the injured soldier.
“Today is Salute to Heroes Day,” park president Don McCoy said. “We recognize not only our heroes, but the family members who care for them. They carry a heavy load.”
Cecelia Mix of Patterson is the primary caregiver to her husband, Navy Petty Officer Mark Mix, who was hit by a mortar blast almost 10 years in Iraq. The exact date is tattooed on his neck.
He spent 18 months in hospitals after the incident.
“I didn’t really have any support until we met,” Mix said of his wife. “I denied everything (that had happened.”)
The couple, married three years, has seven children between them. Three teen sons live at home and also help with Mark Mix’s care.
Mark Mix deals with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Cecilia Mix spends much of her time staying close to him, hoping to prevent triggers such as certain noises and smells.
“It doesn’t end at night,” she said. “There are nightmares. I have to be on (duty) 24/7.”
Mark Mix saw the Six Flags event as a way to spend time with his family.
His wife was looking forward to a day outside the house. At the same time, she said she’d have to be tuned into what was going on around them.
“No strangers one can walk behind him,” she said, noting that it makes him feel very uncomfortable.
U.S. Army Specialist Nicholas Morgan traveled from Rocklin with his wife Rebecca Morgan and their 10-year-old daughter Angelina Morgan.
He was injured during a blast five years ago in Afghanistan.
“I don’t have a lot of emotion after being in combat,” he said.
The event meant a lot to him, he said.
Morgan said he is 90 percent disabled and is attending school studying computer forensics. He also works at the All American Speedway in Roseville as a NASCAR technician.
Col. David Mott, commander of the 60th Operations Group at Travis Air Force Base, was among the contingent that honored the men and their families.
“It seems the toll of our conflict is leaving its mark across the military,” he said. “With each opportunity we have, military and civilians, should show support for their sacrifices.
“This is a great opportunity to tell them while they are off the battlefield and off the seas, we haven’t forgotten about them.”
Other Operation Homefront participants were Private Estevan Rojas of the United States Marine Corps with his wife, Maria and their three children; Sgt. Fernando Rivera, also a Marine, his wife Fatima Brenda and their three children; and Sgt. Matt Pettet from the Utah Army National Guard, his wife Kristin and their four children. Rojas and Rivera live in California.
The park also presented Kari McClellan of Operation Homefront with a $5,000 donation. All 11 Six Flags across the country were doing the same, McCoy said.
“The money goes to help families like these,” McClellan said.
There are more than 1 million soldiers, post-Sept. 11, 2001, who are receiving help, most of them from family. Of those family members doing the caregiving, 90 percent are women, she said.
“As a county, we need to take care of them also,” she said.
The families were treated to a day in the park, complete with season passes and easy access to rides.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.