Veterans find resiliency in skydive

Published 10:40 pm Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Combat Wounded Coalition celebrated its 12th Jumping for a Purpose on Saturday at Skydive Suffolk. The event celebrated nine Overcome Academy graduates, a slew of Gold Star families and the life of Ron Condrey.

Combat Wounded Coalition is a nonprofit whose mission is to assist veterans that were wounded in combat to find their purpose and to overcome their injuries, both mentally and physically.

The event marked the culmination of a two-week program for nine of the individuals that hurled themselves out of the plane.

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The program, Overcome Academy, is another facet of the Combat Wounded Coalition, and it’s a program that teaches leadership skills, purpose, resiliency, communication and nutrition.

Before any of the veterans or Gold Star families began jumping, CWC Founder Jason Redman spoke about the life and death of Ron Condrey, a veteran who was set to jump on Saturday.

Condrey took his own life three weeks before the event. He was a Navy veteran who struggled with mental health issues that stemmed from his traumatic brain injuries.

“We have fought in wars on foreign soil, and now we are faced with a new war on American soil — the war to save our warriors and the war to save themselves. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide per day,” Redman said. “We’ve set out to do something that so many groups are doing. We are losing this war at a monumental level.”

Redman spoke of Condrey’s life before and after the military and reminded the veterans in the crowd that they can begin to heal once they begin to step out of their comfort zone.

Nicole Condrey, Ron’s wife, recounted his love of skydiving and his daily struggles within his own mind before his suicide. Later, she was one of the first to jump.

“The only way to cope is that Ron isn’t suffering anymore,” Nicole said. “This is not a golden ticket to take the easy way out. That decision is irreversible, and you cannot change it. Listen to Ron, because he would tell you to push through one more time.”

When Nicole jumped, she released part of her husband’s ashes into the sky before unfurling the American flag as the National Anthem played.

“It was emotional. It feels like family here, and it feels good to honor him, because he honored so many,” Nicole said after her jump. “I even saw a rainbow under the canopy.”

Osvaldo “Ozzie” Martinez was a graduate of the Overcome Academy, and the program gave him the ability to change his perspective on life after his service and injuries.

Martinez was a corporal in the Marine Corps from 2002 to 2006 and deployed to Iraq twice in that time. He has struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder since leaving the Marines.

“This has changed my perspective,” Martinez said. “I tend to struggle with hypervigilance. I was vigilant about everything, and it held me back.”

Distrust of people made for a difficult life, but hearing Redman speak helped Martinez change his perspective on his own life.

“It was this mindset of either you’re going to go around it, over it or through it. It was powerful to hear that,” Martinez said.

Before Martinez jumped, he had no fear. He knew that jumping was necessary for his healing, and he was ready to get out of his comfort zone and start living.

“They mentioned something that when you jump all your problems are gone and you only worry about one thing — you jumped out of a plane,” Martinez said. “Once in a while you have to get rid of your problems, and I felt like this was necessary.”

Others felt emotional before they took their turn at the Skydive Suffolk facility.

Chad Shevlin is no stranger to skydiving, but this was his first jump after attending the Overcome Academy. Shevlin was a former sergeant in the Marine Corps, and he medically retired due to injuries he sustained during an operation in Iraq in 2003.

After a 12-hour day of heavy fire with enemies, Shevlin was wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade. He suffered shrapnel wounds and facial disfigurement.

“I didn’t think I was going to die, but I didn’t think I would recover,” Shevlin said.

Emotional recovery was just as hard as the physical recovery, but the two-week course gave Shevlin a confidence he didn’t know he would have.

“I noticed a change in me, and in 14 days this academy had torn down walls that I didn’t think would ever come down,” Shevlin said through tears. “It put things in perspective.”

The Combat Wounded Coalition and the Overcome Academy were founded to help wounded warriors overcome the physical and mental struggles they experience every day, but founding them helped Redman more.

“Helping others is cathartic. We tend to focus on ourselves, so for me to get out and help others allowed me to put the focus there. It helped with a lot of healing,” Redman said.

Both organizations could always use help with funding and mentors. Redman hopes that both of these things come to help the organization to expand further than Hampton Roads.

More information about supporting both of these organizations can be found at