Buffalo-based Bunkers in Baghdad aids veterans through golf

Aug 15, 2016

A Buffalo-based charitable organization has, for the past seven years, provided some unique care packages for members of the U.S. military: golf clubs and balls. It's a gesture that the project's founder has learned goes a long way toward helping veterans overcome stress.

Bunkers in Baghdad was founded by Joe Hanna, who explained to WBFO that he first saw soldiers swinging golf clubs while watching a segment of the CBS television program 60 Minutes in 2008. The inspiration to form Bunkers in Baghdad didn't come, though, until a short while later.

An unidentified U.S. soldier tees off in Afghanistan with a club and ball provided by the Buffalo-based charitable organization Bunkers in Baghdad.
Credit courtesy Bunkers in Baghdad

"A couple of months later I read an article by (former golf pro turned commentator) David Feherty in Golf Magazine that said a soldier's favorite form of stress relief is hitting golf balls," Hanna explained. "So I said the least I could do is get some golf balls and golf clubs together and ship them overseas.

"Eight years later, we're at seven million golf balls and more than 500,000 golf clubs shipped around the world."

Monday evening at Fox Valley Golf Club in Lancaster, participants in the annual Duster Challenge putting tournament were encouraged to donate gently-used golf clubs and golf balls. Later in the week, on Friday, August 19, Bunkers in Baghdad was scheduled to host its annual golf tournament at Ivy Ridge in Akron. That tournament, says Hanna, is their biggest annual fundraiser.

It's not collecting the equipment that poses the greatest challenge for Bunkers in Baghdad but shipping the goods. The military does not ship them and so Hanna must pay to have the clubs and balls sent through the Army Post Office (APO).

"At the end of the day, we're constantly fundraising," Hanna explained. "We do events across the U.S., in Chicago, in Dallas, in Houston and Miami."

Local professional sports teams have provided support to Bunkers in Baghdad. The Buffalo Sabres, Hanna explained, co-sponsors their annual tournament while the Buffalo Bills provide cash grants. 

Another part of the program is known as "Bunkers Buddies." Through that, Bunkers in Baghdad works with more than 400 schools nationwide to collect golf gear. Participating students also write letters and draw pictures for soldiers overseas.

"They also do fundraising, whether it's a dress-down day for a dollar for students, or if it's a hat day, they've also helped us in these fundraising efforts," Hanna said.

Golf clubs and balls have also been distributed to VA hospitals so that patients may have access to the equipment as part of their rehabilitation.

The feedback, Hanna explained, has been overwhelmingly positive, especially from soldiers stationed overseas.

"The biggest theme we hear from them is 'thanks for not forgetting about us,'" Hanna said.