bill-jessicaBy Jessica Silk

I never truly grasped how difficult swimming through five hundred meters underwater is with a missing a leg until that moment. From my peripheral view of my mask, I could see the stream of bubbles coming from my Veteran’s regulator as if he were a steam engine chugging away at full speed with a missing wheel. We weren’t going to make it.

My eyes focused on my timer strapped beside my compass. Five minutes left. I could feel the acid building up in my thighs as they strained to keep finning. I only imagined how hard it was for him. The same mantra kept churning in my head as we pushed forward: Oh please, oh please, oh please, let us get to shore, so we don’t have to swim any more. Oh please, oh please, oh please…

A sharp tug from my buddy line swung my arms out of place throwing my compass bearing off. I looked back. His eyes were the size of saucers. Fumbling with his pressure gauge, he brought it to my eye level. My insides squirmed. His tank had less than 500psi of air left. Not good. Craning my neck to the left I peered at my air level. I had 2000psi. Instructors train you to give up your air when your buddy is in need. They never tell you how scary it is, though, to hand over your own regulator as I did for him. Exhibiting no hesitation, he plucked the air hose into his mouth. Turning my chin down, I began breathing off my secondary regulator.  We weren’t in mortal danger — the surface was eleven feet above us — but it was a big deal for him so I gave him the OK signal with my hand. He returned it. In that micro-moment, I knew we were going to be OK. We would make it.

As I settled in for the long drive home from the Keys, I couldn’t stop mulling about the week I spent with the Combat Wounded Veterans Challenge group. My dive buddy had sustained a spinal injury from an IED blowing up under him when he was a Marine in Afghanistan. Due to complications with his spinal cord, he chose to remove his left leg. When we surfaced on the shore, his first word was “Damn” and his second was “Thank you.” He told me that he was on the verge of a panic attack as we swam, but the minute we started sharing air he realized that he had to calm down in order to finish. It reminded him of the camaraderie he felt when he was active duty. I leaned my head against the window and thought of that OK signal. I smiled. The one thing that I learned from that OK, is that some hurdles require you to finish as a team.

bill-jessica-at-signI would like to attend this year’s summer trip because I know how to work with others in a team. I’ve personally experienced the thrills and challenges that scuba diving has to offer and know I could make a great addition to any activity. Whether that’s hanging coral “ornaments” on a PVC Christmas tree underwater volunteering beside a wounded Veteran or just unloading tanks after a long day, I’ll be willing to step forward and be a team member. Considering I have been in the SCUBANauts organization for six years, and many years before it living vicariously through my older sister, I know how SCUBANaut trips operate. One has to be flexible, meticulous, cooperative, and positive to squeeze the most out of the trip’s joys. Unfortunately, this summer will be my last chance to dive with SCUBANauts as a Naut. I will turn nineteen in September. I’m hoping that by attending this trip, I can create even more lasting memories than previous summers.  I’m also hoping to reconvene with the Combat Wounded Vets to further my relationship with them. Those guys are true inspirations and they help me become a better diver. It will also be the fourth year I’ve worked with them and undoubtedly my last. In essence, this trip will be bittersweet if I attend because it’s my last chance to say goodbye and thank you. Thank you to SCUBANauts and thank you to the Combat Wounded Vets.

In the news: Studio 10

In the news: Studio 10

This morning our Aconcagua Team members, Billy Costello, Pete Quintanilla, Josh Waisanen and Bryan Weideman appeared on the WTSP-TV Studio10 show.  They talked about the climb, the conditions and the medical studies being conducted while making the ascent.

Show host Roxanne Wilder led the discussion and the guys did a great job representing CWVC.  If you missed it you can click on the link to see the entire segment.

Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge Video Link

Thanks Studio 10 for taking an interest in CWVC and our Challenge Warriors!

Gunny Brady Walks for CWVC

Gunny Brady Walks for CWVC

526294_10201501258870411_1921153580_nIt takes a special breed to be part of the military.  You are the 1% that heeds the call to serve our nation.

Here comes one Gunny who wants to make a difference for our veterans while supporting Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge. Roy Wesley “Wes” Brady, Jr., recently retired from the U.S. Marines after 22 years, including two tours in Iraq. With plenty of time on his hands, Brady came up with a great idea to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice and those who have survived injuries.

Retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Roy Brady, Jr., is walking across America as a way to impress upon the public the needs of our military veterans and share the CWVC mission.  Roy’s “Walk For Warriors” begins with a Marine Send-Off March 1, 7:30am in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina at the Marine Reserve Unit office at 6115 North Hills Circle.  He’ll visit Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, before ending at Camp Pendleton in California 6-8 months later.

Roy’s goal is to raise awareness for the issues facing our military veterans.  While traveling, the Marine is asking for donations in support of CWVC in an effort to singlehandedly fund one of the newest CWVC programs – The Adaptive Warrior Sailing Camp for Novices in Galveston, Texas scheduled for October.  The program costs $35,000.  Fifteen combat wounded and injured soldiers will learn how to sail 3-man boats (Sonars) and compete in a regatta.  While at the camp, the group will participate in medical case studies tied to traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress and prosthetics. To make a donation in honor of Gunny Sgt. Brady, please visit this page.  You can follow Gunny Brady’s trek across the USA by checking out the Walk For Warriors page on our website.  It will feature the map route, link to his FB blog, show photos and other details.  You can also visit the Facebook page that we will be helping Roy to keep updated on his journey.

Here’s Roy’s planned route:

  • Departing Charlotte NC
  • Ashville NC
  • Knoxville TN
  • Nashville TN (Roy’s hometown)
  • Little Rock AK
  • Tulsa OK
  • Oklahoma City, OK
  • Amarillo TX
  • Albuquerque NM
  • Flagstaff AZ
  • San Bernardino CA
  • San Diego CA
  • Ending Camp Pendleton CA

CWVC thanks you Roy for doing this!  If you are near the area where Roy is walking, he invites you to spend a little time walking with him.

After all, time passes quickly when amongst friends.

Keep up with Roy!  Roy Brady’s Walk 4 Warriors is on Facebook and you can keep up with the walk here.

Aconcagua Challenge Warriors Inspire VA Veterans

Aconcagua Challenge Warriors Inspire VA Veterans

BillySpeak1Last week, in the midst of preparing to ascend one of the 7 Summits of the World, our Challenge Warriors took some time off and traveled to the James A Haley VA Hospital.

They were on a mission.

This time it wasn’t about scaling the side of a mountain or trekking across icy terrain or gathering data for evidence based studies in the field or replenishing dying reefs undersea.

It was instilling hope and dispensing inspiration by being who they are and sharing themselves with other veterans who have lost a lot. Just like them.

The CWVC Challenge Team sat across from wounded warriors and looked these vets in the eyes as they shared their stories. The losses, the rebuilding of lives torn apart by war. One minute they were fine and the next they were not.

As Billy Costello said, “Hey, I by accident stepped on an IED and it changed everything.”

Expedition Leader Pete Quintanilla and Roland Vaughan explained that CWVC helped transform their perspective and provided an opportunity to go out and accomplish things. Slowly a transition occurred, with all of these warriors as living proof that perseverance pays off.

“We are going to climb one of the Seven Summits of the World,” said Bryan Wiedle. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. I’m excited to do it with this group of guys.”

It was time to leave. Wheelchair bound warriors joked and mingled with the CWVC team as they offered encouragement to one another. “Keep up the rehab….Stay safe up there!”

They all walked away a little bit more inspired by the experience and better for it.

The Haley Vet group plans to keep track of the CWVC Aconcagua Summit Team’s progress by checking our website www.combatwounded.org starting February 7-February 28. The team will post daily updates (photo, thoughts and perhaps videos) based on the ascent schedule and weather permitting.

‘Tis the season

‘Tis the season

‘Tis the season for many things at Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge.

valspar-painting-cwvcChristmas brings its own set of priorities and responsibilities. We are in the holiday spirit, and at the same time scrambling to attend parties, visit with friends and family and somehow get that shopping completed all before Santa rolls into town! The same can also be said at Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge…except ours is a little different scenario.

Although we have wrapped up our Challenges for the year, we are extremely busy planning next year’s event calendar, promoting the year-end giving campaign, working on our first newsletter, preparing sponsorship proposals and also giving back to the community we live and work in.
Yes, as busy as we all are, a handful of CWVC staff, volunteers and other caring individuals came together to help The Shepherd Center as they move into a brand new building here in Tarpon Springs. The good news is that they will be able to assist more people that are struggling with homelessness and need help. The bad news is the plain fact that there are MORE people that need the help. And the worst part is that a large majority of them are VETERANS. That is one reason why the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge team rolled up their sleeves and lent a hand in painting the interior of the new building.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

It is unusual for several charities or groups to come to the aid of another. But in the spirit of the season, our team had an assortment of people who wanted to make a difference. Director Arlene Gillis, along with students Harrison Pham and Roy Rangel representing St. Petersburg College / JE Hanger Orthotics & Prosthetics College, CWVC Challenge Warrior Nathan Deneault, Mrs. Marie Martinez, Tania Rodrigues, a UCF student and CWVC Volunteer, Jeff Hoberg, a staff member with Congressman Gus Bilirakis’ office, and our Executive Director CAPT. David Olson and myself.

Congressman Gus Bilirakis stopped by to encourage everyone and thanked us for sharing our time and talents to help those less fortunate. He pledged to continue to do what he can to shed light on the issues of our military veterans and those who need help the most.

Valspar donated all the paint and supplies for the paint party. Christine Shand and Michael Herrera with The Shepherd Center were there painting with several of their volunteers.
A good 4-5 hours of hard work left everyone feeling good. It was time well spent helping a great organization…and it was a wonderful, caring gift we gave one another and our community.

I’d rather do community service than sit and write a load of Christmas cards. ~Paul O’Grady

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from our family to yours!