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Summerlin nonprofit founders hit road to hear veterans’ tales

For 10 years, Phil Randazzo of Summerlin dreamed of hitting the road with his wife for a cross-country trip to help veterans.

This fall, the couple did just that; their six-week, 4,585-mile trip ended last month. Phil, 50, and his wife, Jennifer, traveled through the South and Midwest in a travel trailer loaned by vehicle manufacturer Airstream as part of the company’s Endless Caravan promotion. They visited five military bases and seven veteran-owned businesses in eight states.

The Randazzos’ goal for the trip: connecting with veterans in other communities as part of American Dream U, a Summerlin-based nonprofit that helps veterans with the transition to civilian life. The couple visited military bases and veterans’ homes to record video interviews about their service, their transitions to civilian life and other topics.

Phil said that while he’s able to chat with veterans between breaks at American Dream U events, the cross-country journey allowed for deeper connections.

“With most of our events, we’ve had as many as 800 people and as few as 50 to 60 people,” he said. “But meeting people, one on one, really getting to know somebody and their story for 30 or 40 minutes, that’s powerful.”

One of the veterans Phil met was Dakota Meyer in Austin, Texas. Meyer, now 30, received the Medal of Honor for his heroism rescuing soldiers during an ambush in Afghanistan in 2009. Meyer, a Marine Corps corporal at the time of the attack, gained fame for becoming the second-youngest living recipient of the Medal of Honor — as well as for TV appearances and his two-year marriage to Bristol Palin, the oldest daughter of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

The Medal of Honor is given to those who “distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty” in combat.

“His story was just amazing,” Phil said. “He openly talked about his battle with alcohol and drugs and those type of things, how hard it is to transition back into civilian life.”

The Randazzos also traveled to New Orleans to connect with Travis Collier, a marine investigator for the Coast Guard. Phil and Collier met in 2016, after they’d both published books about military transition. Phil’s is called “Mission Next: An Inspirational Story.”

“Phil really wanted to highlight the support that is sometimes lacking in the transition community,” Collier said. “That’s always effective. Often the Coast Guard gets left out of a lot of transition-related events, so I asked Phil early on if he’d be able to make a stop as part of his tour and he was able to.”

Airstream also paid for the couple’s gasoline and stays at RV parks. Jennifer praised the company for its role in their journey.

“I think the trip gave me a sense of gratitude,” she said. “I was able to see more of the country and meet with veterans willing to risk everything to protect us and our freedom.”

Phil said he and his wife might do the trip again. Jennifer said that if that happens, next time they’ll try to spend more time in nature.

Regardless, they’ve got plenty of mementos from their most recent journey.

“Documenting this trip will be a lifelong memory and something we always treasure,” Jennifer said.

Contact Mia Sims at msims@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0298. Follow @miasims___ on Twitter.

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