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Charity drive puts car keys in hands of veterans

MIDVALE — Until recently, David Aullman and Justin Dredge were strangers to one another, despite their many commonalities.

Both are veterans: Aullman served in the Persian Gulf War with the Army; Dredge did two tours of duty in Iraq with the Marines.

Both struggle today as a direct result of their military service: Aullman battles post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that he says contributed to him losing his job in 2014; Dredge is 90 percent disabled, the work of a suicide bomber, he said.

And both saw their livelihood threatened following car crashes in recent years: Aullman's vehicle was totaled in an accident over the summer; Dredge was rear-ended a few years ago in the SUV he bought with cash from his deployment.

On Thursday, Aullman and Dredge left the Progressive service center at 6941 S. River Gate Drive in vehicles purchased for them by local employees as part of the insurance company's annual Keys to Progress event.

"As a company, we've seen the need in our communities to provide support to military men and women who may be facing tough circumstances in life," said Jill Aldred, claims supervisor at Progressive's Midvale service center.

"This is one way that Progressive is able to put our core values into action. Today we extend the principle of the golden rule to people who have given so much for our country," Aldred said during the ceremony.

More than 100 veterans and their families received cars Thursday through the nationwide charity drive, company officials said. Over the past five years, Progressive and its partners have donated more than 500 vehicles to veterans through the program.

Progressive partnered with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the National Auto Body Council, and auto body shops and salvage companies to refurbish the vehicles and present them to their new owners at ceremonies across the nation during the week of Veterans Day.

Employees at the Midvale service center raised roughly $7,000 in extras to give to the veterans, including iPads and gift cards, company officials said. Aullman was presented with a 2014 Honda Accord, and Dredge drove off in a 2013 Nissan Sentra.

Aullman, of Twin Falls, Idaho, served in the Army from 1988-91, conducting military support. During that time, he sustained a traumatic brain injury, the result of continued concussive shots, according to a biography provided by Progressive.

He's also a single father of 16-year-old Lillie, who was diagnosed about three years ago with lupus. Both Aullman and Lillie need to make regular trips from Twin Falls to Boise — roughly a two-hour drive — to receive treatment, him for PTSD and her for lupus.

Since his car was totaled over the summer, Aullman had been without reliable transportation. He has a part-time job now, and recently was able to get into housing, he said.

"It has been hard for me to hold down employment because of my health and my daughter’s health," Aullman said.

Dredge, a Utah native, suffers from several severe injuries that make it difficult for him to keep a job, he said. His run-in with a suicide bomber in Iraq earned him a Purple Heart.

The domino effect of his SUV being totaled has included having to either walk or get a ride to work. Despite those challenges, Dredge has been able to complete an associate degree at Salt Lake Community College, and he recently started work at TNT Guns and Range in Murray.

"Thank you," he repeated to those gathered in the Midvale service center. "Thank you, thank you."