RIDGELY — A group of veterans is developing community and helping other vets to come out of their shells while bonding over skydiving. Jump for Valor is a 501(c)(3) designed to help vets to work through post traumatic stress disorder. This past weekend they hosted their annual fundraising event at Skydive Chesapeake. Attendees received a free dinner courtesy of Buffalo Wild Wings and beer from Mispillion River Brewing on Saturday, lunch on Saturday and Sunday, and a “Jump for Valor” neck buff/face shield.
Roughly 6,000 veterans are lost to suicide; countless more live with PTSD, mental anguish and suicidal ideation. This is a problem that breaks the hearts of many; it leaves doctors, psychologists and family members wondering how to help stop this trend and what else can be done for our former service members, said Jump for Valor founder Chris Derbak.
The nonprofit organization directly supports veterans. Formed for the purpose of bettering the lives of military veterans through participation in skydiving and aerial sports, the foundation has been very successful over the years.
Owner of the drop zone in Ridgely, Skydive Chesapeake, Max Sivohins is CFO of Jump for Valor and manages operations at Skydive Chesapeake on a daily basis, making sure everything is safe and goes smoothly. On a typical day, Skydive Chesapeake hosts 15 to 20 people.
“I paid the registration fee for a good friend of mine who did a couple of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s an Army vet. He just wanted to come out and be a part of the community of veterans. And I wanted him to experience this. He came out all day, talking with people and sharing stories and he found guys that actually served in his division back in 2007 or 2008. I have met a couple of other vets who haven’t seen each other in 13 years,” Sivohins said.
“So although this event in theory is small, we live in a small world. And so it’s cool to see that kind of bond still exists to this day after all those years,” Sivohins said.
Typically the annual event is held in Sebastian, Florida, but the group would like to see events everywhere. Jump for Valor began three years ago as a fundraiser for “a guy that got badly injured in Iraq, and it has become this big organization. We have created a family of sky divers just uniting behind this organization to help sponsor veterans to do tandems or to sponsor veterans to get their Class A skydiving licenses, which is a basic skydiving license. Actually our first sponsored veteran skydiver who got his Class A, flew out from Texas to be here,” he said.
Stories flowed between jumpers while they watched others land.
“I did a night jump. It was killer; it was really good. I ended up coming down not at the flag, but I came down at the runway. I was like I don’t know about this on the concrete side so I went to the left and I took home some soy beans as a souvenir,” said jumper Brian Cicaowski from Arlington. Cicaowski is active duty with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Arlington.
“Special Tactics Squadron. I am on 470 jumps,” chimed in Tom Andrews.
“That’s a different level of badass,” said Cicaowski.
“The training was pretty great. Every year some guy would break his back,” said Andrews.
“I think Vets for Valor is awesome. Look at all the people they have got out here. Even during all that is going on in the world, they got a good turnout,” said Andrews.
Sienna Stover of Lancaster, Pa., is training to be a commercial pilot. “I have my commercial license, my instrument rating and I am working on my flight instructor’s rating. I just turned 20. Once I get the hours, I want to be a jump pilot here.”
Gregor Weeks, instructor, has 2,170 jumps. “To become an instructor you have to have 500 jumps, and then it is about a week-long course. You don’t have to do a tandem on your first jump. You can have what’s called accelerated free fall with two instructors holding on to you. You have your own canopy.”
Volunteers Michael and Stacey Shaw met the Jump for Valor team while skydiving earlier this year, “We just happened to meet them and hit it off. We work in the defense industry ourselves,” Michael said. “Our company deals with a lot of vets. We found out what was going on with Jump for Valor and we offered our time and said what can we do for you guys?” At Saturday’s jump they “played Uber driver,” taking a Gator to get the jumpers and bring them back in.
Stacey said, “We also donated all the firewood. We have to keep our vets warm.”
“The whole event is awesome. Even the Chesapeake Skydiving, it’s a great thing for Ridgely. There is not much to do in the area. To find an area to do this in and for it to be local is great. And it’s fun to watch. I am so glad they are reaching out to the vets,” Stacey added.
First time tandem jumper Mckenzie Ferrio said, “It was awesome. It was cold, and I still can’t hear because of all the pressure. It was pretty freakin’ cool.”
Derbak said getting their 501(c)(3) status took two years, “a lot lawyers and a lot of accountants. We were really lucky because both our accountant and our lawyer were both military. They loved what we were doing with the concept and actually donated their time. Two years worth of work.”
The program is for veterans who want alternative therapies to just talk therapy, explained Derbak.
“We are all born into a family, but this is a family you get to choose. Last but certainly not least, we provide veterans with a support system. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a major cause of suicide for veterans, with up to 22 veterans affected each day. Veterans can feel isolated and have trouble communicating their feelings, re-engaging with their community or feel a sense of purpose after their military careers. Through our program, qualified veterans can meet people with similar backgrounds and problems and work through them together,” he said.
As Derbak talked, two parachutes came in hot and close to the crowd.
“These guys are the black daggers. They are a demonstration team from the Army,” said Derbak, “They were like, it’s not an official function for the military, but as far as we’re concerned — let’s go. They paid their own way to come down here a be a part of it. They did an amazing flag jump this morning to open up the event for us. Professional guys like the black daggers showing up on their own time and on their own dime to be a part of this and do a big flag jump. Companies pay thousands of dollars to get that and these guys said we are all over it. We’ll do it.”
He went on to talk about the needs being met by the money being raised.
“The jump program is therapy for the guys who have no other outlet or no other way to look at it. I wish I could go an entire month without having somebody call me up saying the thought of suicide is real. If I don’t find some other way, that’s where I am going. It is really our goal to make that not happen. By taking these guys on a tandem or fun jump or whatever they get some camaraderie and see your friends. Getting them out of their shell. It really is the difference between something bad happening or something good.”
To learn more about Jump for Valor visit the website www.jump4valor.org.