Warrior Foundation Freedom Station aspires to be the leading force in assisting, honoring and supporting the military men and women who have so bravely served and sacrificed for our country. We are committed to supporting our warriors in a variety of ways, providing quality-of-life items and numerous support services designed to assist them and their families during recovery.
Warrior Foundation Freedom Station assists four main groups of Warriors:
- The seriously injured returning home from war;
- those suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTS) and/or traumatic brain injury (TBI);
- those undergoing physical or occupational therapy;
- and warriors who have been medically retired and remain in our community
To serve this last group in particular, Warrior Foundation Freedom Station pioneered a new approach and created Freedom Station – a unique recovery transition center and housing facility that provides injured Warriors with the acclimation time, guidance and resources to successfully make the transition from military service to civilian life.
We vow to be a “Hand-up and not a Handout.”
Warrior Foundation Origin Story: Sandy Lehmkuhler
By Danny O’Neil
The Warrior Foundation Freedom Station didn’t start with an idea so much as a belief.
We can do better.
That’s what Sandy Lehmkuhler thought when she was visiting an active-duty Naval Hospital in November 2004, but more importantly it’s what she felt as she met four Marines, each of whom had lost an arm, leg or had a neck halo on because of an IED explosion. She asked them what they needed with Christmas coming up, and after those four Marines stood up as straight as their injuries allowed and insisted, they were just fine, ma’am. Only the second time, she asked after she had stepped between them, pushed the “Stop” button on the elevator so those Warriors would know she was serious. She was a Navy wife, a Navy mom and she really wanted to know what the one thing was they needed.
Turned out there was something: a Norelco Cool-Skin electric razor with built-in lotion dispenser. The four Marines were amputees, and while they were able to help each other with the buttons and tie their shoes, shaving was impossible, hence the razors.
This is where the Warrior Foundation started, not in terms of paperwork or formal designation as a 501 (c) (3), but something more important: its mission. Back before the Warrior Foundation raised a single cent, or opened either of its Freedom Stations, Sandy Lehmkuhler believed we could do better for our critically injured and ill Warriors. She believed that we should do better and that the country could do better was to get these razors for these Warriors who’d already given so much. Except it was 300 razors, and they were $68 apiece so she needed a little help
That’s why she wound up writing to KMFB 760 AM the next morning to see if they’d be willing to help spread the word about what these warriors needed. The radio station, which is now 760AM (iHeart Media), was more than just interested, it chipped in. The campaign raised more than $68,000, and Norelco provided the razors at cost.
Turned out that Sandy was just getting started. The Warrior Foundation Freedom Station has raised more than $20 million in donations and services. It moved from those electric shavers to buying airline tickets so injured warriors could travel home for the holidays. It arranged for custom-made combat boots that zipped up from the heel, which meant they could be worn on prosthetic limbs, allowing Warriors who’d lost a portion of his/her leg to appear in complete uniform with matching combat boots.
In 2011 the Warrior Foundation opened the first Freedom Station, an eight-cottage development in the South Park area of San Diego. The objective was to provide a transitional housing option for Warriors preparing to leave the military. In 2020, the Warrior Foundation opened Freedom Station II in the same neighborhood.
Two things have remained constant through all of this:
(1) The belief that we can do better as a country for those members of our military who suffer critical injuries while serving their country.
(2) Sandy Lehmkuhler
She may not have planned to start a multi-million dollar non-profit when she visited that active-duty hospital in 2004, but she turned out to be uniquely suited for it. She had worked as a union stage manager, which gave her a background in managing a lot of moving parts. She was also working full-time at the corporate headquarters for Jack in the Box, and maybe as important as anything, her life as a Navy wife had taught her not just to pinch pennies but to make them scream.
She brought that focus to a specific group of Warriors: those who’ve been injured or become ill during service. Everything from injuries on the battlefield to a cancer diagnosis to the scourge of post-traumatic stress. These active-duty warriors have both immediate and long-term needs that the Warrior Foundation Freedom Station seeks to address with quality-of-life items like razors, combat boots and specially designed ultralight wheelchairs for competitive basketball and more long-term assistance such as transitional housing.
The Warrior Foundation has seen a specific need among those warriors who have suffered injuries that meant the end of their military service. The day a Warrior is told he or she won’t be able to continue in the military is harder than most of us can imagine. That Warrior, who has already given so much, has been told they’ll no longer have this position that they’ve sacrificed so much to hold. Over the next nine months, which is how long it usually takes to finalize the discharge, the warriors find themselves caught between two worlds. On the one side there is the military life to which they’re accustomed, but where they’ll no longer serve. On the other side is the civilian world, which is going to take some getting used to, and on top of all that these warriors are dealing with the physical and emotional trauma that comes from the injuries.
It’s this reality the Freedom Stations were designed to address. Sandy Lehmkuhler had been looking for a suitable site for something like this for years, and she believed that when she found it the property would talk to her. Turns out it was a palm tree that spoke loudest as she came across eight little cottages with a palm tree right in the middle.
That palm tree is gone now, replaced by a flagpole with a big eagle on top. The cottages are still there, painted a light yellow so that it’s reminiscent of the military buildings. Like military housing, but not military housing. Their own place where they’ll live next to Warriors facing the same challenges, sharing step in the journey back toward civilian life.
As for Freedom Station III and Freedom Station IV? Stay tuned. This foundation that started with Sandy Lehmkuhler’s conviction that we can do better is committed to doing just that for our ill and injured Warriors.
Board of Directors
Board Member / Co-Founder
Commander, U.S. Navy (ret.)
Board Member / Secretary
Strategic Partnership Manager, iHeart Media
President, Warrior Foundation Freedom Station
Board Member / Treasurer
CFO, Technology Integration Group
S. Wayne Kay
Retired Healthcare CEO, Non-profit Executive
Regional Marine Manager, U.S. Navy
Chairman of the Board
CEO / Co-Founder
Executive Director, InfraGard National Members Alliance
U.S. Navy veteran
Retired Colonel, U.S. Army Reserve
Board Member / Vice President
Owner, MSE Landscape
Reserve Deputy, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department
Syktich Financial, LLC
President, Corvus Strategies and retired Colonel, U.S. Air Force
Staff / Team
CEO / Co-Founder, Warrior Foundation Freedom Station
President, Warrior Foundation Freedom Station
Vice President, Marketing & Development
Executive Office Manager
Assistant Office Manager
Property / Maintenance Manager
Wolfpack Wheelchair Basketball Manager / Executive Office Assistant
Webmaster / Digital Marketing Coordinator
Volunteer / Merchandise & Store Manager
Carol Ann Palmer
Volunteer / Database Coordinator
Volunteer / Office Assistant
Warrior Foundation Freedom Station is grateful for the generosity and philanthropic spirit of our individual and institutional donors from around the country.
Thanks to their support, we can make a lasting and measurable impact on the lives of our ill and injured warriors.
Since our founding in 2004, Warrior Foundation Freedom Station has been committed to fiscal responsibility, financial best practices, and above all, ensuring that the maximum amount of dollars goes directly toward program services for military heroes in need.
To the men and women of the United States Armed Forces, and the donors who graciously welcome them with open arms, a shoulder to lean on, and an outstretched hand, we salute you.
Thank you for your “Pride, Passion and Patriotism.”