January 8, 2009 – Matt Kuntz, who spearheaded the fight to combat post-traumatic stress disorder in Montana, has been invited to travel with President-elect Barack Obama on his Whistle Stop Tour by train to Washington, D.C., for the presidential inauguration.
“I’m blown away by this honor,” Kuntz said Wednesday. “It’s wonderful to know how much the president-elect cares about soldiers with PTSD.”
Kuntz is one of 18 guests invited on the tour — and the only Montanan. However, the Crow Nation will be among 10 tribes participating in the inaugural parade, said Obama spokeswoman Shannon Gilson.
A Helena attorney and former West Point Army officer, Kuntz focused public attention on PTSD after his stepbrother, Chris Dana, returned home from combat in Iraq, was unable to handle drill weekends and received a less-than-honorable discharge. Dana killed himself March 4, 2007.
Last year, the Montana National Guard devised a series of assessments to detect symptoms of PTSD every six months for the first two years after a member’s deployment and to assemble a crisis response team to investigate soldiers and airmen beginning to exhibit problems.
Obama met with Kuntz and other vets in Billings in August to ask about the Guard’s reforms as the then-presidential candidate was heading to Denver for the Democratic National Convention. He later referred to them as a national model.
Kuntz, who has since become director of the Montana chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said he received a call from a number with a Washington, D.C., area code on Jan. 1, but didn’t return it until a few days ago.
“They told me I was invited to join them at the inauguration,” Kuntz said. “I thought they were trying to give me a couple of tickets to the ball, and I told them I just couldn’t afford to come.
“Then they told me it wasn’t that kind of invitation,” he added.
“The president-elect and vice president-elect wanted to bring a group of people with them on the journey to Washington, D.C., who together represented the diversity of our country and the different life experiences of the Americans who make up our great country,” states an e-mail to Kuntz from the Obama Presidential Inauguration Committee.
Kuntz and his wife, Sandy, will fly to Philadelphia late next week to join the Obamas for a whistle-stop tour on Jan. 17 that will go through Wilmington, Del., and Baltimore before arriving in the nation’s capital. Vice-president-elect Joe Biden and his family will join the train in Wilmington.
At each stop, Kuntz and the other invited guests will be on stage with Obama.
– Mark Dowell, Crestwood, Ky.
– Matt Kuntz, Helena
– Jim and Alicia Girardeau, Kansas City, Mo.
– Juliana Sanchez, Albuquerque, N.M.
– Rosa Mendoza, Las Vegas
– Lisa Hazirjian, Cleveland, Ohio
– Kirsten Meehan, Dover, N.H.
– Roy Gross, Taylor, Mich.
– Shandra Jackson, Arlington, Texas
– Quincy Lucas, Dover, Del.
– Patricia Stiles, Parker, Colo.
– Gregg Weaver, Fairless Hills, Pa.
– Tony Fischer, Cincinnati, Ohio
– Lilly Ledbetter, Jacksonville, Ala.
– Mike and Cheryl Fisher, Beech Grove, Ind.