BrothersKeepers bringing back the ’80s with MusicFest fundraiser

Jack Fanning operates mobile devices with the assistant of a tubular extension.

Photo: Paul K. Harral


MusicFest III with Berlin featuring Terri Nunn and Poo Live Crew

April 14 at 5:30 p.m.

Ridglea Theatre

6025 Camp Bowie Boulevard

- FWBP Digital Partners -

Fort Worth 76116

Reserved Balcony Seating: $45

General Admission: $35 standing room only

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1986 — That’s the year the American New Wave band Berlin scored its best selling hit “Take My Breath Away,” and they are headlining the show! JoinBrothersKeepers for an 80’s themed night filled with music, drinks, raffle items & of course, dancing. 80’s attire is welcome & encouraged – there will be a costume contest so bust out the aquanet.

All proceeds will benefit BrothersKeepers – a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization

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BrothersKeepers really did start with a band of brothers.

“The origins go back to the early mid 90s when it was really just kind of a guy’s night out,” says John Laudenslager, one of the founders and now a recruiter for the University of Texas at Arlington’s Executive MBA Program (EMBA).

It was just a bunch of guys from different Fort Worth high schools who wanted to keep in touch with each other and started meeting regularly.

“We’d throw on a sports coat and look a little more respectable than we probably were and go to a restaurant that was probably more expensive than we could really afford,” he said.

“We started chipping into a pot, so that at the end of the year we could do something for charity. And so, the first year, around the holidays after doing a few of these, we bought a lady a wheelchair, and everybody thought that was kind of cool,” he said.

Jack Fanning was a regular until he joined the Air Force in 1997. He’d attend the meetings when he was back in Fort Worth and they’d send him messages of support during his five deployments to Afghanistan and one to Iraq.

He made it through all those deployments a special operations combat controller safely although there were some close calls, and was reassigned to the United States as an instructor.

On Jan. 11, 2010, Fanning was on a training jump over White Sands, New Mexico, as a member of the 24th Special Tactics Squadron.

It was a HAHO jump – that stands for high altitude, high opening. Troops jump from as much as 20,000 feet and fly the parachutes to the landing site.

What happened next was, he says, a freak accident. When the parachute opened, it knocked his night vision goggles off his helmet. That ultimately meant that he couldn’t judge distance well and he hit the ground hard.

He was paralyzed from the neck down.

And BrothersKeepers had its cause.

“We wanted to support Jack, show him that we cared, and do whatever we could,” Laudenslager said. “As a friend, you don’t really know what to do. You don’t really know how you can help.”

But what they did was revive the guy’s night out tradition, but instead of chipping into a pot for random charities, they started chipping in to support some of the veteran service organizations that had helped Fanning.

And then one night on the patio at Cat City Grill on Magnolia, Laudenslager struck up a conversation with some women at a nearby table to explain the behavior of what he called the “dirty dozen of us having a good time,” wanting to make sure they were not offended what he referred to as “unfiltered” behavior.

They had been planning a raffle to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project and the Tarrant Area Food Bank and one of the women wanted to participate.

“What was crazy is, through the course of that night, three or four other people were writing us checks and giving us money, and we just happened to raise about $1,300 dollars, when normally we’d probably do $500 or $600 with just the group,” Laudenslager said.

“The light went on that night that we needed to make it official, and that Jack’s story was compelling, and there’s a sea of goodwill, and people wanted to do something for the vets, but a lot of times, they really didn’t know the best charity,” he said.

BrothersKeepers Inc. was founded as a non-profit within a couple of months and held its first fund raiser music fest at Poag Mahone’s Irish Pub, 700 Carroll St., and raised about $43,000. That was 2012.

“In 2013, we did our first Wounded Heroes retreat, down in the Hill Country, and got seriously injured folks – missing limbs, quadriplegic, paraplegic, – with all their family and kids out to show them a good time,” Laudenslager said.

“Got them kayaking and jumping out of helicopters, and just helping them know that in spite of their injuries and challenges, they’ve got a support network in the BrothersKeepers family, and they can still do a lot of the crazy physical things that maybe they thought they’d never be able to do again,” he said.

It’s important, says Fanning, that part about the families.

“When somebody gets injured or wounded in action, it’s the whole family that gets affected, and their support group and the families around them. So, we bring the whole families to these retreats, and we all bond,” he said.

There is healing in that, he says, because it makes it easier to talk about what happened and about the disabilities.

“We all sit around during the down time when we’re not doing action sports,” Fanning said. “We’re talking about some of the fun things that we did when we were in, or how we got busted up, or how we deal with our problems.

“You end up having a lot of similarities that you might not have realized,” he said. “These guys, maybe they’re not getting out as much and being social, and so now, boom, there are 10 other families that are in the same boat as they’re in, so they get to talking.”

And he knows what he’s talking about.