JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — After September 11, 2001, America sent men and women to war. When they started coming home hurt, a small charity was born.
Wounded Warrior Project started when a few folks started giving those veterans backpacks filled with basics, like socks and underwear. Nearly 20 years later, the national charity, based in Jacksonville, still gives away those backpacks. However, now they do so much more.
Recently, WWP brought together 15 battle-tested veterans in the pool at Marineland. In his 27 years in the Army, Jimmie Blockett never experienced training like this. Blockett and his new friends are part of Project Odyssey, a five-day camp of sorts, put on by Wounded Warrior Project.
Chase Skylar Demayo is one of them.
“Getting to swim with dolphins, they’re beautiful majestic animals, it’s really cool to get to do it with a bunch of other veterans. There’s 15 of us today get that camaraderie feeling,” Demayo said.
Demayo joined the Air Force in 2006 straight out of high school, because of the September 11th attacks.
”I was in high school English class and I remember them turning on the TV I remember watching the event unfold, trying to process it. The aftermath, couple days later, was my first time seeing real life superheroes -- military, police, fire, first responders,” he said.
These veterans come from all branches of the military and different backgrounds, but they all served after 9-11.
“There were so many things I kept in for the 12 years since I got out. I didn’t know who to talk, to you, about it. I didn’t have the right support group so for those 12 years I was just managing it the best I knew,” Demayo said.
With the help of dolphins at Marineland, and other group activities, Project Odyssey is designed to recreate the camaraderie of the service. It also shows each of these veterans they are not alone, and gives them coping skills to deal with the wounds of war -- seen and unseen.
“It’s a little bit of guilt you know, ‘Why them, not me,’ type feeling,” Demayo said.
At the Wounded Warrior Project, it’s all about the warrior, not the war. In 2003, they started giving backpacks to soldiers hurt after fighting after 9-11. The services have changed but the mission stays the same.
“We want to reduce suicide and they’re doing that by bringing these veterans out of the darkness and bringing them to a place of the light,” Blockett said.
“I think of the Wounded Warrior Project logo. It’s a soldier carrying another soldier on his back and the ultimate goal for me, maybe at the beginning when I signed up, I was the one getting carried and I want to pay it forward and be the soldier that’s carrying someone else and the cycle will continue to grow,” Demayo said.
They fought for our country, now they’re learning to heal for themselves.
Project Odyssey is just one of dozens of ways Wounded Warrior Project helps veterans who have served since September 11. Click here to learn more about WWP’s programs.
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