LUMBERTON — Between parachute jumps, rappelling out of helicopters and jet flyovers at Lumberton Regional Airport on Saturday, area groups reached out a helping hand to veterans and their families.
At the event sponsored by the All Veterans organization, military was the language spoken here by groups like Mission 22, a nonprofit started by veterans for veterans. Mission 22’s primary mission is to stem the tide of veteran suicide, which has risen to 22 a day.
Mission 22 offers many types of help, such as a weeklong post traumatic stress detox program, martial arts, horseback riding, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, service dog training, housing assistance and more.
Volunteer Jeramiah Gentry, a veteran and Mission 22 ambassador from Hope Mills, handed a brochure to Janet Williamson, who works the front desk at the mental health clinic at the Veterans Affairs facility in Fayetteville.
“Can I take a couple of brochures to work with me?” Williamson asked. “I can use these.”
Like many at the airport on Saturday, Williamson has deep military connections. She served in uniform for 11 years.
The exchange made Gentry’s day.
“If we can reach one veteran on a day like today, it’s a good day,” Gentry said. “I have been volunteering for six to eight months, and it’s a good cause.”
Shayna Cram, who was at the table with Gentry, also is relatively new to Mission 22. She also has deep roots in the military.
“Every woman in my family dating back to the Civil War was married to a military man,” Cram said. “My husband died in Afghanistan doing what he loved.”
As a Mission 22 ambassador, Cram trains service dogs for veterans who came home with injuries.
Mike Elliot was at the airport as leader of the All Vets Parachute Team, which jumped three times Saturday. The team members are former Army Golden Knights and Army airborne veterans.
“I jumped tandem with President George H.W. Bush three times on his birthdays,” Elliot said. “I’ve made about 13,000 jumps altogether.”
Tim Brown, who lost a son-in-law to suicide in 2014, was there with the Lone Survivor Foundation.
My son-in-law had a bad experience in Iraq,” Brown said. “Whenever Lone Survivor asks, I volunteer. Vets and active duty soldiers need to know it’s okay to ask for help.”
Dave Hamilton was on a different mission. He’s an expert on the Normandy invasion and Operation Market Garden, which featured large-scale parachute drops during World War II.
“Next year is the 75th anniversary of Normandy,” Hamilton said. “I make opportunities for old paratroopers to go to Normandy and Market Garden. I’ve jumped both.”
Ross Kennedy brought two powered paragliders to the event. He trains others to fly at the Zombie Air Force Base in Hoke County. He had a connection to Lumberton Regional Airport.
“At 25 miles an hour, it’s the safest way to fly, as long as you don’t do anything stupid,” Kennedy said. “I’m the go-to guy for paraglide training.
“I feel at home at this airport. This is where I got my first flight instruction in 1989.”
There also were monster trucks, stretch limousines, jeeps, motorcycles and a replica 1968 Bullitt Mustang at the airport on Saturday. It was all for a cause.
Suicide, divorce, homelessness, unemployment, chronic pain and drug abuse haunt vets who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Events like this one connect vets to other vets and the help they need.
Reach Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]