The "Footsteps to Freedom" Art Installation

Shepard Fairey
Lucas "MRKA" Bennaroch
Krave, Daniel Fila
Diana Contreras
Gems Grotto, Raymond Gems Adrian
Roy Gonzalez
Nicholai Khan
Xavier Cortada
Benedicte Blanc-Fontenille
Salvatore Principe
Van Alpert
Carol Fitzsimmons
Mark Cherry
Jorge-Miguel Rodriguez
Joe Chirichigno
Laura Cartagena
Alexis Myre
Dakota Sica
Frankie Cihi
Jennifer May Reiland
Nikki Salcedo
Rezm Orah
Yuri Tuma
Stella Isabella
Larry Dalton
Nanette Koryn
Susan Herring
Bill Clay
Monika Lange
Jamieson Thomson Thomas
Vivian Macia
Brett Sauce
Fernanado Mastrangelo
Larry Dalton
Gary Sinise
Darylne Chauve
Andrew Burge
Domique Ovalle
Amy Easton
Leni Weber
Ann Brost
Sandra Bialek
Mesay Ayalew Demisse
Myriam Hernandez
Marianne Paruch
Nancy Baker Kelly
Sacrifice boot
Miguel Hines
Tillie Strauss
Pamela Peacock
Jacqueline Sanchez
Romero Britto
Anne Brunk
Maria Teresa Gomez
CJ Horoff
Lizzie Easton
Megan Kelly
Mark Dicesare
Harum Mehmedinovic
Rhiannon Panopoulos
Matjames Metson
Brian Renda
Luis Valle
Dion Smith

featured Artists

click play

In 2010, grassroots not-for-profit “” had the idea to collect war-torn boots from the deployed and wounded soldiers that received iPads from them. Boxes from the middle east filled with boots caked with sand, with holes, and sometimes even spattered with blood started to arrive. Sometimes there would be a note, a story, even dog tags slipped inside. These boots all had a story to tell, and artists from all over the world eagerly accepted the challenge to transform over 100 boots into works of art. From world-renowned artists such as Shepard Fairey and Romero Brito to street artists, tattoo artists and even art teachers jumped at the opportunity!

The result was astounding, and “Footsteps to Freedom” was born. In December 2015, the collection was displayed at Miami’s famous “Art Basel” in a depiction of a glass spiral staircase winding to the heavens, each displaying a boot, representative of the ultimate sacrifice of so many of our wounded and deceased heroes. The floors were covered with orange sand reminiscent of the Afghan battlefield, and more boots “marched” there. People marveled at these creative and powerful masterpieces.  

When the exhibit came to a close, the organization’s most fervent wish was for these boots to find a “forever home”, permanently displayed at Walter Reed military hospital where we would travel sometimes several times a year delivering iPads in person to the wounded. There was no place on earth that was more fitting for this stunning and powerful memorial to all those who serve and sacrifice. For years we worked on getting this dream approved.

In 2021, the hospital finally gave approval! Incredible partners Diageo/Crown Royal eagerly agreed to fund the installation, and after 2 years working with designers and fabricators, the dream became a reality. The entire lobby of this hospital building where our nation’s heroes can live for years while they recover, and where the organization has delivered iPads for 14 years, has been totally transformed from a drab and lifeless space to one filled with color and creativity— where the centerpiece is a formidable 25 foot high gold pyramid “staircase”, with the “heart” of the exhibit made purple for the esteemed “purple heart”, and an internally lit “angel” boot is featured at the top. The effect is awe-inspiring and powerful. The effect on everyone there was immediately apparent. This absolutely changes the experience there… uplifts those who live and work there, and shows the love, support, and gratitude they so deeply deserve. It draws attention to the sacrifices made by soldiers, seeks to pay tribute to the fallen, to express the gratitude of our nation, and raise awareness about the importance of freedom and patriotism.

The Origin and Creation of a Powerful Memorial Installation

When designing the exhibit, we knew we needed something special for the center box. The “heart” of the “Footsteps to Freedom” exhibit. The entire installation was made possible by our incredibly generous partnership with Diageo, specifically for this project, “Crown Royal”. This brand has a very specific color association which is a dark, regal purple. It is extremely reminiscent of the esteemed “Purple Heart” award. It made sense to make the “heart” of the structure be a reflection of the sacrifice of the “Purple Heart” recipients, as well as a nod of gratitude to the company that made this incredible masterpiece a reality.

The artist who took on the challenge of creating this signature boot is long-time supporter Monika Lange. She used a plush purple pillow and took gold cording and tassels from old military uniforms to create the base for the majestic combat boot painted in purple, with flowers dipped in various shades of purple cascading down the back. She placed a crown atop the boot and carefully attached little gold pins denoting a variety of military ranks. At the lower left side of the pillow she was able to attach an actual purple heart medal. This exquisite and powerful presentation was exactly what was needed to become the forever “heart” of the project.  

The "HEART" of the Installation

Carl Philippe Enis was an American staff sergeant member of the United States Air Force's 308th Rescue Squadron.
Carl was born on March 31, 1986, in Miami Beach, Florida, and grew up in Coral Gables, where he attended Gulliver Preparatory School. Enis later moved to Tallahassee, Florida, where he obtained a Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Studies and a Master's Degree in Business Administration from Florida State University.
Carl became a Pararescueman. (PJ) Enis was skilled in providing life-saving trauma care and search and rescue. He was proficient in a range of skills, including marksmanship, parachuting, SCUBA diving, mountaineering, and trauma medicine. He upheld the Pararescue Creed, which emphasizes serving others in order to save lives. 
On March 15, 2018, Staff Sergeant Enis died in a helicopter incident on the Syrian-Iraq border, along with six other airmen. Despite the tragedy of his passing, Enis was recognized for his exceptional service to his country, posthumously receiving the Meritorious Service Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal (with combat device).

Enis was previously deployed to support combat operations in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. Enis was also an accomplished outdoorsman and held licenses in real estate, insurance brokerage, and piloting. He was known to his family and friends as a humble, talented, and selfless individual who left a lasting impression on all who knew him. A graveside service was held in Enis's honor on May 21, 2018, at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

Staff Sgt. Carl Enis

On June 25, 2011, US Army First Lieutenant Dimitri del Castillo, 24, of Tampa, Florida, died in Kunar province, Afghanistan. He was on the radio calling in support for the men of his unit around him who had been attacked and wounded by small arms fire from enemy forces. While refusing to give up the radio so he could help keep his men alive, he was hit and died with the mic in his hand.

Dimitri’s bravery, compassion and commitment to serving his country and others began long before his time in Afghanistan. After entering the US Military Academy at West Point, he became the fly half for the Army Rugby team, and graduated in May 2009, receiving his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant. After completion of the Basic Officers Leadership Course and the Mortar Officers Leadership Course, Dimitri went on to earn the coveted US Army Ranger tab. After his third year, 1LT del Castillo earned his Airborne wings at Fort Benning during the summer and went on to complete Ranger School in May 2010.

1LT del Castillo was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii at the time of his death in Afghanistan.

His personal service awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Overseas Ribbon, Global War on Terror Service Medal and the NATO Medal. He also earned the Parachutist Badge, Ranger Tab, Expert Infantry Badge and Combat Infantry Badge.
1LT del Castillo was a lover of life, a great athlete, and avid sports fan with a kind heart for those in need. He loved God, his country, his wife and his family. He will be remembered for his great laugh and upbeat personality.

1st Lt. Dimitri Del Castillo

Though this installation truly honors all of our nation’s military, current and past, we wanted to add a special dedication plaque for two specific heroes, both killed in combat. 1st Lt. Dimitri Del Castillo and Staff Sgt. Carl Enis will be forever immortalized and honored on this wall at Walter Reed military hospital. Their sacrifices, like those of so many others, reflected in this installation and remembered and appreciated by all.  

A Special Dedication

Another artist transformed their pair of boots into a stunning “painting” standing over 5 feet high in a golden frame with golden boots hanging from it, complementing a multi-colored heart. This piece has found its forever home behind the welcome desk in the main lobby of the hotel.  

In the main lobby, we have a monument created by an artist now encased in a custom-made plexiglass box and made of stacked marble with "For the Fallen" etched in gold, weighing nearly 100 pounds. Two gold combat boots adorn the top of the marble on a piece of draped satin. This incredibly beautiful and poignant piece is placed right at the front doors when you enter the lobby.   

Finally, the “Purple Heart” award is a prestigious award bestowed upon members of the US Armed Forces who have been wounded or killed by enemy action. Sadly, so many on this medical campus have received that award. We felt it was fitting to pay tribute to them, as well as those who didnt receive the award but still sacrificed so much for our freedoms. “Purple Rain” is a collection of purple acrylic hearts, cascading down nearly invisible fishing line from metal stand-offs. Twelve of these magical lines hang side-by-side giving the effect of “Purple Rain” in this last section of the wall. The effect is calming and also formidable.

On the next section of the wall, the most moving and powerful letter that was discovered tucked in one of the old combat boots shipped to us from overseas for use in this project is printed on large panels. Master Sergeant Andrew Burge crafted this emotional and poignant letter about the story of his boots. It begins “In these boots, I have bled….” And ends, “In these boots, I bore witness”. This incredible “story” had to be shared, and people have been seen crying in front of it as they read his powerful words. 

Though “Footsteps to Freedom” is front and center in the lobby at Walter Reed’s famous “Building 62” where many of our recovering wounded stay for extended periods, we were also able to gift multiple additional powerful and inspirational pieces of artwork in other areas of the building.  

The main hallway leading to the small apartments where the wounded live was previously long and had basically blank walls. We were able to transform each section with other meaningful work. The first section is now home to awe-inspiring aerial photos of Jalabad, Afghanistan during wartime mounted on metal. These incredible photos were captured by Captain Wes Pritchett from his Kiowa helicopter and now grace this wall that these wounded warriors pass many times a day.  

Warrior Way

Next on the list was securing beautiful and durable umbrellas for the sets. Tuuci Umbrellas (owned by Dougan Clarke) was equally quick to jump in with an offer of 12 custom-made umbrellas for the space, and they were the perfect accent to the gorgeous furniture sets. The furniture has gotten such positive feedback, and our friends at WR sent pics of the wounded and staff enjoying fresh air! 
Lastly, they needed some interior furniture and we were thrilled that also answered the call and generously donated a variety of sofas, arm chairs, and coffee and end tables!
We love it when companies feel the same way we do about showing love and gratitude to our nation’s military! We cant thank them enough! 

Having visited Walter Reed so many times over the years while delivering the ipads, we have grown close to some of the team there and always strive to help them in any way they need.  
Our contacts there mentioned to us that they could really use nice and durable outdoor furniture for these heroes and their families to relax in the fresh air (as well as the fabulous staff). We reached out to the owner of CMA Sourcing, Sean Carbonell. Not only did he immediately agree, he sent a link to every furniture set they offer and told Walter Reed to pick absolutely ANY set in ANY number that they could use! They selected gorgeous solid teak sets with Sunbrella cushions, and Mr. Carbonell gifted a dozen full sets for the spaces! Not only did he not hesitate to donate them, he had his team in Georgia assemble them all, load them in a truck, and he PERSONALLY drove them all the way to Washington DC to make sure all was perfect!  

Other Gifts/Improvements

Footsteps to freedom:
where my boots have been...

Co-Founder Amy Zambrano wrote a poem about the stories of the boots they received from the front lines and the transformation from what they once were, to what they have now become as a part of this art installation.  

A Poem About The Boots

Many don’t give a minutes thought
to the shoes that they wear...
They’re often they’re just meant 
to get you from here to there.

My shoes don’t just have “soles”,
They have “souls”, too...
They’ve had the most important
of all jobs to do.

These combat boots protected me
from harsh earth, hellish heat...
from an army of insults
to this soldiers feet.

They walked me to danger
as I fought in this war...
brought me back to my outpost,
battered and sore.


The road that we’ve traveled
Was littered with pain.
Lives lost for nothing...
No way to stay sane.

They’ve walked through Afghan sand
caked with blood of my brothers...
They’ve burrowed in foxholes,
dragged mangled bodies of others.

They stayed on tired feet in tiny cots
as the night cold began to bite...
rigid with anticipation 
of being called out in the night.

They walked for countless miles
through burning sand...
Critical parts of the armor
of brave young women and men.



These rugged fortresses of the feet
that keep out so much,
also produced feet
too raw and painful to touch.

After trekking all day and night
across unforgiving terrain,
These first line of defenses
Reveal feet in agony, in pain…

When someone asks me
where my boots have been,
They’ve been in the service
Of all Americans.

They have carried their wounded,
and have stood there beside
and watched young, brave heroes
as they have suffered and died.


They have run wildly to their station,
Whenever sirens sound.
They’ve jumped out of planes
and smacked roughly on the ground.

They have sat around a campfire,
thousands of miles from all they know,
and felt a unity and a purpose
with those there with them who also fought our foes.

They have been caked with blood,
but also shine with the tears
that have dropped down from eyes
quietly crying through the years.

They’ve waited outside
of cold, unwelcoming showers.
They have swept for explosives,
they have stood guard for hours.


They have played kick the can
Around a sparce and lonely base.
They have walked us away
from sorrows we just couldn’t face.

They have marched alongside
A flag-draped casket, going home.
To a heart-broken family,
Forced now to move on alone.

They have stood in line for hours,
just for 15 minutes on the phone.
They have bent as we prayed
For God to bring us back home.

They have brought the lucky ones
To thankful children, parents and wives...
For others, their boots were set alongisde their guns and tags... 
A tribute to their lost lives.


They have stood rigid and proud
as the hangar doors open wide,
and the families waiting for their returning soldiers
pour out from inside.

They have lifted up children 
And spun their dear wives...
They have walked holding their loved ones
to start trying to get back their lives.

But these boots carry a heaviness
That doesn’t disappear.
They carry unthinkable reminders,
Year after year.

Of the places they’ve been
And the things that they’ve seen.
No brush in the world
could wipe these things clean.


Now my boots are paying honor
To those that fell,
doing the job
that our boots do so well.

I gave my boots up
Because now I don’t need them.
They’re showing the way
to “footsteps to freedom”.

-Amy Zambrano