GENEVA – U.S. Army Specialist Joshua Kerber will be the first recipient of the Associated Firefighters of Illinois Geneva Local 4287 gift of a car.
Kerber, 26, of West Chicago, who lost his left arm in Afghanistan in 2009, told the Geneva City Council some of his story Monday.
“I joined the Army in 2008,” Kerber said. “I looked around at my job prospects and realized that I needed an education and I couldn’t afford one. And the Army had always been something on the back burner. I had family that served; it seemed like a good thing.”
Kerber lost his arm during a security operation “a night like any other night” when his convoy was ambushed. He was the gunner on the lead vehicle that was hit by rocket propelled grenades.
“I went down. I stood up and began to attempt to return fire,” Kerber said. “The second [hit] – there was no getting back up after that one. I have shrapnel throughout my body. This [right] arm is hurt, too, but luckily there’s no nerve damage .... The left arm – don’t feel bad for it, it was useless anyway.”
Kerber, flanked by Geneva firefighters and union members Kevin Swanson, Rod Johnson and Dave Lentz, each wearing a sample black T-shirt that supports their fundraising effort.
“The Warrior Program has been a statewide program for about six years [and] given seven cars away to wounded Illinois veterans throughout the state,” said Johnson, who is vice president of the local.
“We started this program in June and said, ‘We’re not going to sell a couple shirts, we are going to sell $30,000 worth of shirts. We are going to find someone that is in need and give them a vehicle,’ ” Johnson said.
They sell T-shirts in partnership with the Kane County Cougars and through Firehouse Pizza and Grill, and some events at Old Towne Pub, both Geneva, Johnson said.
They have sold about 2,500 shirts at $20 each, he said, with 100 percent of the proceeds going toward buying the vehicle.
Although the Geneva local has taken the lead in the program, Johnson said other fire department locals – West Chicago Local 3970, Batavia Local 3436, Elburn Local 4749 and St. Charles Local 3322 – are working with them, as well.
“Josh picked out a brand new 2014 red Ford F-150 as the vehicle he needs and Fox Valley Ford [in North Aurora] gave us a tremendous deal on it and we’re going to go buy it this week with him,” Johnson said.
On Friday at Fifth Third Ball Park, Kerber will throw out the first pitch for the Cougars vs. Clinton Lumber Kings.
After the game, the vehicle will be presented to Kerber down on the field before the fireworks, Johnson said. Mayors and elected officials of the local communities, as well as state senators and representatives and Gov. Pat Quinn.
“We’re hoping he makes it,” Johnson said.