Photos: Dan Nerney/Sail Newport
NEWPORT, R.I. (May 13, 2015) — The MetLife Combat Wounded and Injured Veterans Regatta at the Volvo Ocean Race Newport Stopover was created to bring relief to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and today it fulfilled that mission.
Fourteen veterans from around the country—some amputees, some partially paralyzed, all searching for a meaningful purpose—traveled to Fort Adams State Park to participate in the regatta that was organized by the Wounded Veterans Retreat Program, US Sailing and Sail Newport. They were teamed with the onboard reporters representing the seven teams in the Volvo Ocean Race, which is in the midst of its only North American stopover.
Putting “warrior pride” and “onboard reporter pride” on the line, the crews raced in Sail Newport’s fleet of J/22 sloops in a blustery northwest wind at the mouth of Newport Harbor. Everyone involved was struck with a moment of happiness during the racing and a moment of emotion during the awards ceremony.
“The water was a little cold, but it was a great experience,” said Brian Miller of Rockwell, N.C., an amputee who served in the Army. “I was going through a bad bout of depression and had suicidal thoughts. And I’m not the only one. But sailing gives a bond with the guys on the crew. We give each other encouragement and help each other out. It’s a brotherhood.”
Sgt. Major (Ret.) Nelson Corbin served seven years in combat zones. He was part of the team that found and killed Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar in 1993. He’s been “blown-up” and has shrapnel lodged in his side. He suffers hearing loss and is battling brain cancer.
When his son lost both legs during a tour in Afghanistan, Corbin did the only thing a sergeant major knows–he focused his considerable strength on rallying the troops and bettering their lives by creating the Wounded Veterans Retreat Program, an event-based therapy program that also takes veterans scuba diving, horseback riding and skiing.
“The program affords the veterans a sense of accomplishment,” said Corbin. “When you’re wounded or missing a body part or have traumatic brain injury (TBI), you lose many things. But they’re not totally lost as a person, just out of place. They need help being brought back into place. That’s where we pick them up.”
Army veteran Anthony Webster of Maine suffers severe PTSD and TBI. He was “blown-up” six times in Afghanistan and is a two-time recipient of the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in combat. Since retiring he’s committed his life to veterans’ programs.
“It’s my mission to give back to my brothers and sisters who’ve suffered in combat,” said Webster. “We come to events like this and live like rock stars. The opportunities are amazing and humbling. These events are great therapy.”
Air Force retiree Shawn O’Neill of St. Petersburg, Fla., was stationed in Qatar and Ramstein Air Base in Germany. He’d flown in and out of Baghdad two or three times a day. He’s bound to a wheel chair after suffering a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident two weeks before he was due to return to service in his third deployment. He’s since put his trust in Corbin and Webster to help his recovery.
“I can’t express enough the benefits of being with these guys,” said O’Neill. “It’s a natural state to sit in the house and not deal with things. But these guys have given me a platform to enjoy life. They get me out doing things, which brings a level of calm.”
At an emotional awards presentation Corbin thanked John Hele of MetLife, sponsor of the regatta. Hele said that MetLife’s association was a continuation of the company’s original mission. It was founded in 1868 to insure veterans of the US Civil War.
Corbin also thanked US Sailing, Lee Parks and Betsy Alison. US Sailing paid the travel costs for some of the out-of-towners. Parks, US Sailing’s longtime Inshore Director, ran the regatta and Alison, US Sailing’s Paralympic Coach, helped organize and coaches the teams. Corbin presented each with a picture of the veterans.
“We had a great time, there were a lot of smiles going around,” said Corbin. “The Wounded Veterans Retreat Program saves lives.”
Boat 1: Helm – Peter Cabral, US Air Force, Jib – Nelson Corbin, US Army, Main – Francisco Vignale, Mapfre Onboard Reporter
Boat 2: Helm – Eric Culbertson, US Army, Jib – Brian Miller, US Army, Main – Matt Knighton, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing Onboard Reporter
Boat 5: Helm – Danny Evans, US Marines, Jib – Chris Robinson, US Marines, Main – Amory Ross, Team Alvimedica Onboard Reporter
Boat 7: Helm – JR Hudson, US Army, Jib – Shawn O’Neill, US Air Force, Main – Sam Greenfield, Team Vestas Wind Onboard Reporter
Boat 8: Helm – Bryttany Lynch, US Navy, Jib – Liz Shephard, US Army, Main – Corinna Halloran, Team SCA Onboard Reporter
Boat 10: Helm – James Marcellis, US Army, Jib – Ralph DeConti, US Navy, Main – Yann Riou, Dongfeng Race Team Onboard Reporter
Boat 12: Helm – Ryan Moore, US Army, Jib – Anthony Webster, US Army, Main – Stefan Coppers, Team Brunel Onboard Reporter