For wounded veterans, skydive at Virginia festival can help the healing process

Juan Barrera, who served in the Army for 9 years gets ready to touch down in the sand at the Virginia Beach oceanfront after his tandem jump Saturday afternoon, June 3, 2017. The tandem jumps were part of Jumping For A Cause hosted by the Combat Wounded Coalition. The jumps were during the USO Patriotic Festival at the oceanfront Friday thru Sunday, June 4th.


By FADEL ALLASSAN | The Virginian-Pilot (Tribune News Service) | Published: June 4, 2017

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — From the ground, the deployed parachutes at Virginia Beach’s Patriotic Festival Saturday looked something like polka dots, silhouetted by the sun’s intensity in the background.

Observers at the Oceanfront used their hands to block out the sunlight, clearing their view of the groups of veterans that emerged from the sky every 30 minutes or so — and cheering for the warriors as they made their descent.

Jason Redman, meanwhile, spoke through a microphone, identifying the veterans, their years of service and the combat missions in which they were wounded. Redman, a 42-year-old former Navy SEAL, is the founder and executive director of the Chesapeake-based Combat Wounded Coalition, a nonprofit that aims to support wounded veterans.

Every year, the charity partners with Skydive Suffolk to offer a free skydive to those who were wounded while serving in the armed forces. The skydiving event is one of the many USO Warrior Week/Patriotic Festival events at the Oceanfront this weekend. Other activities for wounded vets included adaptive water sports and fishing.

Redman says the skydive is part of an effort to motivate the vets to live life to the fullest in spite of their injuries.

“Sometimes after these injuries, wounded warriors struggle and it’s hard for them to get back out there,” Redman said. “Sometimes we just need to give them that spark.”

While serving in Iraq, Redman was struck in the arm and face by machine gun fire. For some time, life wasn’t the same afterward, he said, as he struggled to find the motivation to accomplish his life goals.

Many who have been wounded in service have a similar struggle, Redman said, and sometimes, an activity like skydiving can be a catalyst for change as well as a test of courage.

”When adversity hits, a lot of people want to just quit instead of driving forward,” Redman said. “But wounded vets have so much power, their stories facing adversity can be inspiring.”

Redman pointed to Jennifer Garland, 35, from North Carolina. Her fiance, Nathan Speck, a 35-year-old Army veteran, was on his way to Virginia Beach three days earlier when he was killed in a car crash in North Carolina.

Garland, who is in the Army, took the dive that he couldn’t.

Sporting a necklace that contained mementos like her engagement ring and a watch he was wearing when he died, Garland overcame her nerves and made the jump from thousands of feet in the air.

“Nathan was all about everybody else, his mission every day was to make others laugh and smile,” Garland said. “It was an honor to be able to jump for him.”

This year, for the first time, the USO invited wounded veterans from the armed services in Denmark. Christian Rossem, 28, made the trip. He was serving alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2010 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device and suffered a severely broken foot.

Despite being scared to skydive, he said it was the most thrilling experience he’s had.

“We don’t have anything like this in Denmark,” Rossem said.”It’s nice to see that you do all this for soldiers.”

©2017 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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