JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Meghan Wagner was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. Living in the city where Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) is headquartered, she was somewhat familiar with the organization and its prominent logo of one soldier carrying another.
“Even though I didn’t know much about it, I reached out through the website,” Meghan said. “I wanted to volunteer or be a donor. I just knew that somehow I wanted to be part of it.”
As Meghan continued to reach out to WWP about ways she could help, she hoped her time – along with her degree in health education from University of Florida – could be put to good use. Before long, she realized her involvement with WWP could be much more than a volunteer endeavor.
“I ended up connecting with a few people at WWP and realized there were a lot of job opportunities, and this could be a potential career for me,” she said. “That’s not something I had thought about. At first, I just knew that I wanted to be involved.”
Given Meghan’s family history, it is no surprise she wanted to become part of an organization that helps wounded veterans. The connection begins with her father, who was a Navy fighter pilot.
“Like me, he was originally from Jacksonville,” Meghan said. “He went to Florida State University and got a degree in accounting, but he decided that wasn’t what he wanted to do. He joined the Navy, went through his training, and ended up back here in Jacksonville.”
Answering his country’s call to duty, Meghan’s father was deployed to the Persian Gulf. On January 17, 1991, his plane was shot down. She was just shy of four years old when her family received the tragic news. It was a hardship made more prominent by a lack of closure that lasted nearly two decades.
“His remains were not found until August of 2009 when I was 22 years old,” Meghan said. “So that was 18 years of uncertainty.”
Meghan’s family made its way through the struggle of losing her father. When her mother remarried another Navy pilot, he raised Meghan like his own. Eventually, she would have three siblings.
“We were all raised here together,” Meghan said.
The military lineage of Meghan’s family progressed nearly three years ago, when her younger brother decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and don the U.S. Navy uniform.
He really enjoys it, and is really passionate about serving. We’re very proud of him.”
With her family in mind, Meghan began actively pursuing a career with WWP.
“Knowing that my father could have been wounded and could have come back needing care, I was passionate about coming here and being able to fill that void,” she explained. “Unfortunately, my father gave the ultimate sacrifice. But there is also my brother. If anything happens to him, I know there’s a great organization that is ready and willing to help.”
Meghan began her WWP career in May of 2011 as a coordinator with the Soldier Ride® program. Soldier Ride is a multi-day cycling opportunity for wounded warriors to overcome physical, mental, or emotional wounds. It enables veterans to gain confidence through a physical challenge and the bonds of service.
“This is my way of giving back,” she said. “This is my way of serving, even though I have never put on a uniform.”
Gold Star, Bright Future
Around the same time Meghan’s family was receiving a sense of closure following the location of her father, wounded Army veteran Bryan Wagner was wrapping up a two-year recovery at Walter Reed Medical Center. It was there that he met members of WWP, who encouraged him to take part in the organization’s education services programs, which help veterans transition to college and the workplace.
“Bryan was a firefighter before he enlisted in the Army,” Meghan said. “Going to school was something that had never crossed his mind.”
The injury Bryan suffered in Iraq in December of 2007 left him with his right leg amputated below the knee, and eventually led him to rethink his future plans. Deciding to take the advantage of WWP’s programming, Bryan left Walter Reed and headed straight for Jacksonville. He completed the program and decided to continue his pursuit of higher education. He is currently enrolled at the University of North Florida.
Bryan and Meghan eventually crossed paths through mutual WWP friends. In April of 2015, they were married. And just like that, the Gold Star daughter became even more intertwined with WWP as a supportive family member to a wounded warrior.
“I have learned a lot from my husband and from other warriors,” Meghan said. “It gives me a deeper understanding of what they are going through.”
Today, the couple remains passionate about helping warriors through WWP – she as a manager for the Physical Health and Wellness program, he as a representative on the national campaign team, where he can share his story of resiliency and help introduce other wounded veterans to WWP’s life-saving programs.
“Bryan is very passionate about this organization and helping veterans,” Meghan said. “He has been very open about what he has gone through. He has persevered and is very strong.”
With so many personal ties to the organization – and a drive to help and honor soldiers that has been with her for many years – Meghan said she hopes to be part of WWP as long as possible.
“It’s just kind of a calling for me,” she said. “Being able to serve veterans is something I feel the need to do, and this is the best place to do that. I’ve seen us change and do so many great things, and I know we will keep doing that. We will continue to evolve and adapt to the needs of our warriors. For me, that’s pretty exciting.”
With the ever-changing climate of military conflict, Meghan said she is right where she needs to be in order to provide effective assistance to the warriors who will need it.
“The veteran service organization space is so important today,” she said. “I am just passionate about keeping that moving forward. Today’s conflicts are different than any others we’ve ever had. Who knows what the future will hold? We need to be ready for that, and that is why I am glad we have organizations like this one.”