A Symbol of Good Will
Operation Hat Trick is a bridge between soldiers and citizens

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When she first heard on a morning radio show that the one thing wounded soldiers wanted upon their return from Iraq and Afghanistan was a hat, Dot Sheehan '71 sensed that UNH could help. As the university's senior associate athletic director for external relations, Sheehan is always on the lookout for charitable projects that bring visibility to UNH. The concept percolated, but it wasn't until she heard of the death of Navy SEAL Nate Hardy, the son of her friend UNH professor Steve Hardy, that she thought of a way that UNH could help returning veterans, and honor Nate.

Operation Hat Trick was born—a program dedicated to Nate Hardy that provides blue and white baseball caps to injured soldiers. Sheehan found a manufacturer, Turfer Athletic, to produce the hats at cost; businesses, including BAE, Aspire Sport Management and Verizon to help finance the effort; and retailers who were willing to donate one hat to a veterans' hospital for every two sold. Since Operation Hat Trick, coined from the ice hockey term for three goals by a single player, was launched in November 2008, more than 3,000 hats have been sold or donated.

Yet what began as a goodwill marketing gesture has developed into an effort that has not only cheered recipients—a veteran called it "a symbol of people coming together"—but has also deeply affected the UNH community. Those involved, from Sheehan to UNH President Mark Huddleston, said they were profoundly moved by a visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., in June. "I will never complain again," says Sheehan.

Touring the veteran hospitals, talking to returning soldiers who have lost legs and arms and mental agility, reminded all, including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, of the enormous sacrifice these men and women have made, and of the enormous challenges ahead. Flying back to New Hampshire last June, Huddleston chose not to do paperwork, as he usually does when he travels, but to reflect on the day. While he, like Sheehan, was haunted by the image of the wounded veterans, he also felt uplifted, grateful for the technologies of modern medicine, for the dedication of the medical staffs, and for the courage displayed by the soldiers, both during their combat tours and in the rehab room. "None of it was easy to see," he says, "but I left hopeful about the human spirit."


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