U.S. Army Sgt. Andrew Smith and his wife, Tori, faced a life-altering struggle when the soldier lost both his legs in a 2012 bomb blast in Afghanistan.
While recuperating and learning to walk on artificial legs, the Smiths were sustained by a groundswell of local support through the nonprofit Steps2Hope, which built them a home.
After being on the receiving end of such generosity, the couple is paying it forward with their own nonprofit, the Honoring the Sacrifice Foundation, established in 2013 to assist severely injured service members.
Tonight's American Heroes Dinner aims to raise money for that work. And retired Col. Danny McKnight, featured as a prominent character in the book and film, "Black Hawk Down," will speak to a sold-out crowd at The Chattanoogan Hotel.
Reached at his Florida home by phone on Thursday, McKnight said his first focus when giving public talks is to recognize the hard work of the military and then exhort veterans to stand up for their rights, benefits and treatment.
"We're going to have to be the ones who make a difference," McKnight said.
His on-the-ground experience in the vicious 1993 Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia greatly influenced another message he wants to get across, he said.
"We are going down the wrong road with our military," McKnight said of current post-war downsizing and troop withdrawals. "We're putting them in jeopardy."
Leaving a small force in Afghanistan after the end of this year and the complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq have allowed a terrorist rebound in those countries, the colonel said.
"What we're doing is giving up all we have achieved," McKnight said. "We have to be willing to make the hard, right choices and not the easy wrong ones."
Contact staff writer Todd South at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.