Old Friends, New Friends

Categories: Highlights, Offshore Experience, Outdoor Adventures, Support Our Troops Tags: , ,

Corporal Jeramie Green and Sergeant Kevin Gatson bonded while healing from amputations and other injuries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. The ups and downs of recovery forged a deep friendship between the two soldiers.

Jeramie, a Louisiana native, was serving in Afghanistan in 2013 and was two days shy of returning home when tragedy struck. A runaway truck was headed straight for a fueling station and a devastating explosion. But before it could hit the highly flammable depot, Jeramie ran the vehicle down, jumped inside, and turned the wheel in the nick of time.

Having saved the day for his fellow soldiers, he could not escape the truck as it drove off a forty-foot cliff. Jeramie sustained crushing injuries to his lower body, which resulted in the amputation of his right leg.

Kevin had served two tours in Iraq, in 2005–06 and 2007–08, and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. There, while on patrol, a pressure-plated IED exploded under him. The blow resulted in the amputation of his left leg, partial amputation of his left hand, and severe damage to his right leg and upper forearm.

Major Shane Murray and Senior Chief Ward Taft became friends through a small-group gathering at their church in North Carolina.

Shane served 22 years in the Marine Corps—his first nine years spent as an enlisted man before he received a commission to serve as an Artillery Officer. He first deployed to Somalia in 1994, and he spent three subsequent tours in Iraq.

He was wounded on that last deployment when multiple IEDs exploded under his vehicle, and he was medevacked out of theater. After recovering from his injuries, Shane was posted in Afghanistan for two more combat tours.

Like Shane, Ward spent two decades in military service. Ward served in the Navy as a Corpsman, a combat medic who deploys with Marine units. He spent most of his career with Force Recon and deployed multiple times to various combat theaters. He was exposed to multiple blasts that left him with a brain injury severe enough to be treated at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta on two occasions.

These two groups of friends met on a recent peaceful deployment to Costa Rica as part of the Freedom Alliance Offshore Experience at Los Sueños Resort and Marina. On their first night, the men got to know each other at the residence of Gerald and Virginia Lindholm, who, although they could not be there, graciously donated the use of their two condos for the week.

And thus, two friends became four—forming their own small troop, on a mission of relaxation and redemption.

The next morning, we loaded into our golf carts (donated by Gato Gordo Golf Cart Rentals) to head down to the Hook Up restaurant in the Marina Village for breakfast. The restaurant’s open-air seating area sits above the marina, and the men were drooling—not only from the amazing food but from seeing rows upon rows of sport fishing yachts.

Our first day of fishing was donated by Matt and Kelly Weber of the 66-foot Spencer Max Bet. It was the day after Matt’s birthday, and he joined us with his brother Anthony to give the foursome a special day on the water.

Captain Austin Robins of Virginia expertly found the sailfish bite, as Alex Stanley and Josue “Quacker” Ruis worked the cockpit. Matt and Anthony gave pointers and helped hook a few fish, but we were all in awe as Ward and Shane confidently commanded the rods all day. They learned to hook their own catch and were pretty darn good at it!

Jeramie reeled in the first fish, cranking hard in the hot morning sun while trying to maintain his balance. Offshore fishing offers many therapeutic activities, including hand-eye coordination, balance, following instructions—this in addition to the calming motion of the boat and waves.

It was Kevin’s turn when another sailfish got hooked. He didn’t want to wear his prosthetic, so he braced himself on the floor of the cockpit to reel in his catch! Ward and Shane hooked and landed several sails before heading home that day.

The next day, our crew was treated to another day on the water, courtesy of Brad Jones and Stewart Jones of Texas. Captain James Parker welcomed us onto the 70-foot Spencer Blue Eagle. Like Max Bet and its skilled crew, the Blue Eagle’s team competes in the Los Sueños Signature Triple Crown Tournament.

That morning, Captain James took us 60 miles out from the marina, comfortably cruising at 32 knots. Captain Shannon Pecot volunteered to help out with mates Rossi Schel and Jose Picado. After the previous day’s fun, the veterans had gotten into the groove and were very comfortable with each other and the new crew.

Blue Eagle had a “fighting chair” installed on deck, so Jeramie and Kevin jumped into it, learning how to reel in the big Pacific sails using the chair. Once again, Shane and Ward took hold of the left and right long rods, quickly addicted to hooking their own fish. Just as the day was ending for us, the bites picked up, and we were bummed to head home.

The following day, Costa Cat Cruises, owned by Jim Kitchell, donated a tour to Isla Tortuga. Costa Cat has been a solid contributor to the success of our program, and we use the peaceful beauty of the island as an ideal setting to discuss the contrasting hardships of war. Lounging in the shade of palm trees with a cool breeze coming off the blue waters, we employed the “Homecoming” retreat model developed by psychotherapist Dr. Ed Tick.

Even every meal during the Offshore Experience is designed with special meaning for the veterans. Each evening, we enlisted our Freedom Alliance supporters to not only host a dinner, but to join the men in conversation.

After fishing on Max Bet, Freedom Alliance supporter Andy Shapiro treated us to a meal at Ranchero Manuel in Herradura. His son is a wounded Marine, and the men enjoyed hearing family narratives, fishing tales, and about other veterans he’s interacted with through Freedom Alliance.

After our day with Blue Eagle, Captain John LaGrone and his son James hosted our group at the oceanfront El Pelicano in Playa Herradura. John has generously treated many of our veterans in the Offshore Experience. He hates the word expatriate, as all the “ex-pats” in Costa Rica are some of the most patriotic people he’s ever met! That goes for John as well.

On our final night, we ate dinner at the Hook Up and ran into long-time supporter Mike Winget, who kindly bought our lads a drink. Mike expressed openly his gratitude for their service and his desire to help our war fighters—which he’s done time and again by donating the use of his fishing yacht.

As with all our Offshore Experience troops, the Los Sueños Resort donates every meal we eat at their restaurants—silently and without expectation—and we thank CEO Mr. Bill Royster for his many contributions and his support of our program since 2013.

Many thanks to all our allies who make this program possible. Special thanks to the William T. and Ethel Lewis Burton Foundation of Louisiana for being a Captain-level financial sponsor.

Here’s what the troops had to say:

“Sending my sincerest gratitude and thank you to everyone that helped make this trip so amazing. Every aspect of this trip has been a blessing. The time on the water was calming, exciting, and refreshing. The dinners and dinner guests were all great. From the emails leading up to the flight, to getting here and handling the day-to-day events—couldn’t ask for a better host. Enjoyed meeting the other brothers-in-arms and really enjoyed sharing and listening to the stories. What you all are doing makes a difference and is appreciated. Thank you so much again.” —Sergeant Kevin Gatson, USA (Ret.)

“It is hard to put into words just how impactful this experience has been. I greatly appreciate all the support that has made this trip possible for me and as well as all the other warriors that have gone before me! One of the most important aspects of this journey is that you have chosen to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Your honor, courage, and commitments to this program show just how much you care. As I mentioned at the start of my babbling, it is hard to put into words how thankful I am. The best that I can do is to just say, THANK YOU.” —Senior Chief Ward Taft, USN (Ret.)

“Thank you to all of the supporters of Freedom Alliance and military veterans. This experience not only introduced me to brothers-in-arms that I didn’t know, but to a whole new world of some of the greatest people I’ve had the privilege to meet. You all have given me so much in the last week. My heart is full, and though you may not feel the full impact of what you are doing, there are no words for the gratitude and respect I have for you. Semper Fi.” —Major Shane Murray, USMC (Ret.)


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