My name is Amy Cotta; I’m the mother of six, a patriot, founder of a national military 501(C)3 nonprofit and the proud mother of a United State Marine.
In 2011 I signed my only biological son over to the Marine Corps, he was only seventeen at the time. My son went straight from high school graduation to Bootcamp, and I went from being okay to thinking, “OMG! What have I done?!” With the war in Afghanistan shows no signs of letting up and with the loss of life increasing; I found myself slipping into depression, often crying uncontrollably wondering, “Had I just sent my son off to war?”
While Tyler was away at Bootcamp, I desperately and feverishly looked for ways to feel connected to him. I knew I wanted something special, but it couldn’t be just anything. It needed to be something that showed sincere love and gratitude, not only for my son but for all those who served long before him and those who will serve long after him.
Unfortunately, my search was in vain, all I found was obnoxiously designed patriotic fashions and cheap junk jewelry made in China. Eventually, I gave up my search, but I never gave up my need or want. As time went on I realized I was not alone; there are others just like me who desired a nonverbal way to show our love, gratitude, and patriotism.
Fast forward to the fall of 2014 after competing at Ironman Chattanooga 140.6 in combat boots and military pack, carrying the photos of 21 fallen American heroes, on that day our nonprofit Medals of Honor was born. During the first year, I quit my job to work Medals of Honor full-time. We didn’t have a 501c3 status at the time so we couldn’t fundraise to financially support the nonprofit. So my husband and I fully financed the campaign out of our own pockets. We were bleeding money due to the loss of my income, our growing campaign, and expenses. I needed to find a way to stop or slow down the bleeding. One day as I was going through our attic I came across a pair of my son’s JROTC utility pants. I wondered if I could repurpose the pants into something I could wear. I cut and sewed a wrist cuff and attached my dad’s Army unit patch to it. That was it! I had found my wearable gratitude.™ I started taking in uniform donations and making/selling ValorBands for friends and close connections and using the proceeds to help offset our nonprofit funding. After receiving our 501c3 nonprofit status for MOH, I began to broaden my vision of what ValorBands could be if I treated it like an actual business; taking it from a “funding-hobby” and turned it into a social enterprise / social good company.
Future Impact Mission: My goal and dream for ValorBands is to scale to the point where we can teach transitioning, at-risk, and homeless veterans to sew and employ them making our products. I firmly believe that NO veteran should ever be homeless or without employment. They have served us; now it’s our turn to take care of them. I know ValorBands still has a long road ahead of us to make this dream a reality, but with the fantastic support of our local entrepreneurial, social enterprise, and fashion communities I know this dream will someday soon be a reality.
With all my heart, I want to thank you for wearing your gratitude, displaying your patriotism, and helping us to honor the service and sacrifice of our military service members (past and present) and their families.
Mother of SGT Zych, USMC
U.S. Army Sergeant First Class (E-7) Joseph James joined the military and began his basic training as a “Forward Observer” at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma on July 26, 2000. During his service, SFC James deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom once and Operation Iraqi Freedom three times. SFC James’ extensive list of awards includes the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal, four Army Commendation Medals, three Good Conduct Medals, the Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon (numeral 2), two Overseas Service Ribbons, the Air Assault Badge, and the Combat Action Badge. On April 8th, 2008, SFC James’ Humvee was struck simultaneously by two improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
The first explosion struck the engine block and disabled the vehicle, while the second tore through the center of the vehicle, entering through the front passenger door and exiting through the driver’s side rear door. SFC James was the gunner of the vehicle, sitting on a sling seat above the other service members where he could fire the machine gun mounted on top of the vehicle. SFC James lost both legs in the blast. SFC James fell into the vehicle but remained conscious. He quickly began to apply tourniquets—which helped save his life—before crawling out the back of the vehicle to seek help. Directly after the explosion, SFC James was transported by Blackhawk Helicopter to a hospital in Baghdad, where he underwent emergency surgery.
The full extent of SFC James’ physical injuries was determined to be a right below-knee amputation, left above-knee amputation, as well as numerous shrapnel wounds. Due to the size and depth of the shrapnel found in his back, SFC James also underwent an emergency abdominal exploratory surgery to search for additional shrapnel and internal bleeding. It is estimated that SFC James underwent a total of approximately 18 surgeries throughout his recovery.
Joe was transferred from Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C. to the Center for the Intrepid (CFI) at Ft. Sam Houston near San Antonio, Texas, where he immediately began an intensive exercise program that focused on strengthening his upper body and core muscles, which would be relied upon for balance when walking with prosthetics. By May 23, 2009, SFC James participated in his first mini-biathlon for service members at the CFI. He went 10 miles on a hand bike and another two miles in his wheelchair.
Once SFC James received his prosthetic legs, he advanced rapidly through his training, learning how to walk and even run using prosthetics. He received his promotion to Sergeant First Class in March 2009 and continued his physical training during his time in the military, participating in numerous 5K races as well as training for sporting events for disabled athletes.
In 2015, SFC James and his wife, Jarin James, have started their own business in Middle Tennessee. He continues to stay busy by helping support his wonderful family and volunteering and speaking at various Veteran related causes. In 2017 Joe joined the Medals of Honor leadership team as the Director of Veteran Outreach and co-founder of ValorBands. He currently lives in Hendersonville, Tennessee with his wife, Jarin, and four daughters, Rachel, Melanie and Sadie and Taylor.