Cpl. Aaron Mankin, Operation Mend spokesman and patient, honored at IAVA Heroes Gala

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Roxanne Moster
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U.S. Marine Cpl. Aaron Mankin, the first patient of UCLA's Operation Mend, has been honored with the 2011 Veterans Leadership Award by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the nation's first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
Mankin received the award Nov. 9 at IAVA's fifth annual Heroes Gala, hosted by NBC's Brian Williams at the Cipriani 42nd Street restaurant in New York City. The event was part of the organization's "Veterans Week 2011."
 
Mankin, an Iraq veteran and wounded warrior, is a spokesperson for Operation Mend, a unique partnership among Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, and the Veterans Affairs–Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System established in 2007 to help treat U.S. military personnel wounded during service in Iraq and Afghanistan by providing reconstructive surgery, other surgical services and mental health support.
 
IAVA also honored Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," with the 2011 Civilian Service Award.
 
"Each year, the Heroes Gala reminds us why we do what we do," said IAVA founder and executive director Paul Rieckhoff. "It is an inspiring night that pays tribute to the men, women and families who have served our country. IAVA was thrilled to honor Stephen Colbert and Aaron Mankin, who have both made huge impacts on the lives of vets across the country, and we were very happy to have Brian Williams back as master of ceremonies for the third year. His commitment to veterans of all generations is truly inspiring."

Rieckhoff noted that, through very different approaches, Colbert and Mankin have fought for veterans and their families.
 
"Aaron is one of our community's single most powerful advocates," Rieckhoff said. "His leadership, courage, tenacity and humility have inspired wounded veterans and countless people around the world. Aaron has made the impossible possible; his story is one of hope and perseverance that all Americans must know about."
 
Mankin was severely wounded in Iraq when his vehicle rolled over an improvised explosive device, or IED. He suffered intense burns over his body, essentially losing his ears, nose and mouth. He became Operation Mend's first patient. More than 50 surgeries later, he serves as a spokesperson for the organization and is a constant reminder of the sacrifices American service members have been making over nearly a decade of war.
 
"I have been blessed in my involvement with UCLA's Operation Mend," Mankin said. "The doctors, staff and families participating in this trailblazing program will forever be my heroes. Operation Mend is devoted to quite literally changing the very face of war. Our warriors, the people we call heroes, deserve nothing less than the best their country has to offer in every sector of commerce.
 
"I am honored to be recognized by IAVA as this year's recipient of their Veterans Leadership Award. IAVA is helping shape the futures of our sons and daughters fighting these wars. To educate, employ and empower this great generation of service members is a responsibility we all share and is an obligation we must all uphold. I am proud to be a part of this organization and all that Paul and the IAVA board accomplish on behalf of our newest veterans."
 
UCLA's Dr. Timothy Miller, lead surgeon and executive director of Operation Mend, said Mankin was a worthy recipient of the IAVA award.
 
"Aaron, a man damaged on behalf of our country, enduring a painful recovery inside and out, has chosen to go around the boulders in the road and most importantly, move forward, blessed with a loving outlook towards others and verbal skills without equal," he said.
 
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is the country's first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and has more than 200,000 member veterans and civilian supporters nationwide. Its mission is to improve the lives of this country's newest generation of veterans and their families. For more information, visit www.iava.org.
 
For more information on Operation Mend, visit www.operationmend.ucla.edu.
Media Contact:
Roxanne Moster
(310) 794-2264
[email protected]