LAS VEGAS All too familiar with the gambles of war, Jimmy Kinsey, Kyle Riley and a few dozen fellow soldiers landed in the desert. But for these guys this Memorial Day, the most at stake is a few bucks.
The soldiers-turned-high rollers took a private jet to Las Vegas over the weekend for an all-expenses-paid getaway with all the perks normally saved for casinos' richest regulars.
They were greeted at the airport by Wayne Newton, chilled backstage with the guys from Blue Man Group and hobnobbed with Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul who runs Las Vegas Sands Corp. and paid for the trip.
The trip, organized by the Armed Forces Foundation, brought 40 wounded soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., to the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
"I'm gonna be bragging about this for a long while," said Kinsey, 23, while hanging out in his penthouse overlooking the nearby Wynn Golf Course. Each of the soldiers, mostly in their 20s, stayed in a penthouse, and several who came alone got one to themselves.
Kinsey, a Marine corporal from Foley, Ala., who lost part of his left leg to an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2006, said he hadn't spent too much time gambling just a few slots.
"On a scale from one to 10 I gave this trip a 15 when I got on the plane," he said.
Riley, a 21-year-old from Catlett, Va., who also lost part of his left leg to an IED in Iraq, was so overwhelmed by the trip he decided with his fiancee, Alyssa Mergler, to make it their wedding weekend. They plan to wed today on a gold and white gondola, courtesy of Adelson, who Mergler said insisted on having his staff handle the plans.
Mergler, 21, said a wedding coordinator showed up at their suite with a thick book of flower choices.
"I don't have the money to do that," said Riley, who asked Kinsey to be his best man.
Armed Forces Foundation officials said the trip was a dream distraction from the everyday life at the hospitals, where the soldiers lived while recovering from their injuries.
Armed Forces Foundation spokesman Doug Stone said the trip would be the first of many and said Adelson wanted to eventually extend the all-expenses-paid offer to every veteran who had been admitted to the two hospitals.
A spokesman for Adelson said the executive was not available for comment because he was traveling.