For Wounded Veterans, Skydive at Festival Helps Healing Process

Retired Navy SEAL Lt. Jason Redman, a wounded warrior who turned motivation speaker and wounded warrior advocate, speaks as the keynote speaker at the U.S. Navy Birthday Ball in Washington, D.C., Oct. 12, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo/ Peter D. Lawlor)
Retired Navy SEAL Lt. Jason Redman, a wounded warrior who turned motivation speaker and wounded warrior advocate, speaks as the keynote speaker at the U.S. Navy Birthday Ball in Washington, D.C., Oct. 12, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo/ Peter D. Lawlor)

VIRGINIA BEACH -- From the ground, the deployed parachutes at Virginia Beach's Patriotic Festival on Saturday looked something like polka dots, silhouetted by the sun's intensity.

Observers at the Oceanfront blocked the sun with their hands, clearing their view of the groups of veterans that emerged from the sky every 30 minutes or so -- and cheering for the veterans as they made their descent.

Jason Redman, meanwhile, spoke through a microphone, identifying the skydivers, 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.

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

Redman said the skydive is part of an effort to motivate vets to live their lives 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.

Life wasn't the same afterward, he said, and 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 the watch he was wearing when he died, Garland overcame her nerves and jumped 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, 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."

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