Brotherly Love

What started as a private monthly dinner for a bunch of high school friends morphs into a full-blown effort to raise money for wounded warriors and others in need.

That Jason Cox and his buddies have a regular guys’ night out is not unusual. Lots of guys (and girls) do that. What’s unusual is what happened as a result.

“I wanted to meet with my friends once a month for dinner,” he says. “Something nice and not just sitting in a bar. Dress up a little. Just the guys. We would go eat, have a few drinks, get a cigar.”

It began around one Christmas, and they decided to chip in some money to do something nice for someone the next Christmas season. Over the next year, they met monthly at different restaurants, chipping in $5 each. And when someone heard a radio story about a woman who needed a wheelchair, they had raised enough to meet that need.
“You know how in your typical high school you have little cliques where everybody hangs out? Well, our clique was a bunch of guys from different rival high schools around the whole Metroplex,” says member Jack Fanning.

Fanning was around for the start and a regular until he joined the Air Force in 1997. But he’d see the guys when he was back in Fort Worth, and they’d send him messages of support during his five deployments to Afghanistan and one to Iraq.

He taught them about Irish Car Bombs — not the explosive, but the drink traditionally made by dropping a shot glass with half and half Bailey’s Irish Cream and Irish whiskey into a mug of Guinness Stout. They’d have one in his honor at their meetings and then send him a message about it.

Then came Jan. 11, 2010. Military training must be realistic if it is to be effective, and that makes it dangerous. Jack, as a member of the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, was on what the military calls a HAHO mission at White Sands, N.M. That’s “high altitude, high opening” to civilians. Troops jump at 15,000 to 20,000 feet altitude and literally fly their parachutes to the landing zone. When the chute opened, it knocked his night vision equipment off his helmet, and he was able to use it only intermittently since he couldn’t hold it to his eyes and steer the parachute at the same time. But it caused him to misjudge his distance from the ground, and he hit at about 30 knots instead of making a soft touchdown. He suffered C4 spinal cord injury and was paralyzed from the neck down.
“It was just a freak accident,” Fanning says now. “It was pretty brutal, that first six months of recovery. Jason Cox jumped on a plane, and he was with me through all of my recovery at the hospital. That was pretty awesome.”

When he could get around again in his breath-operated wheelchair, he started seeing the guys. At the dinner in March, 2012, the group raised $1,200. “Strangers started to get interested in what was going on and who we were,” Cox said. “So we explained what we were doing, and they wrote checks to us to add to the ‘pot.’ ”

After that, Cox said the group decided to get official, incorporate and apply for 501(c)3 status. The name of the limited liability corporation is Jack’s BrothersKeepers — he’s “our inspiration,” Cox said. There are around 25 active members of the group.