TAMPA BAY - The Tampa Bay Lightning honored Gary Markel as the 34th Lightning Community Hero this season during the first period of tonight's game against the Montreal Canadiens. Markel, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate to Operation Healing Forces.
Markel founded his own nonprofit organization, Operation Healing Forces, after witnessing firsthand the impact war had on the special operations community. The organization provides military personnel with therapeutic retreats where they can openly discuss their battlefield and personal hardships. Since its establishment in 2011, Operation Healing Forces has supported 774 special operations individuals in their recovery process through the organization's retreat program. Markel has helped hundreds of special operations families and has donated over 200 hours of community service to the Tampa Bay area.
Under Markel's leadership, Operation Healing Forces has grown to host over 30 retreats a year and now has 13 active board members. In addition to retreats, the organization also provides employment programs and immediate needs services to participants. Markel was awarded the Special Operations Command's Patriot Award by the United States Special Operations Command in 2018 for his commitment to the special operations community.
Markel becomes the 399th Lightning Community Hero since Jeff and Penny Vinik introduced the Lightning Community Hero program in 2011-12 with a $10 million, five-season commitment to the Tampa Bay community. Through this evening's game, in total, the Lightning Foundation has granted $20.1 million to more than 750 different nonprofits in the Greater Tampa Bay area. During the summer of 2016, the Vinik's announced that the community hero program will give away another $10 million over the next five seasons.