This weekend I had the opportunity to attend New Hampshire’s second Swim with a Mission, a fundraiser for veterans in New Hampshire that gives swimmers the opportunity to raise money by participating in a swimming competition.
In the weeks prior to the event, I found myself wondering how they were going to manage what was expected to be such a large turnout at Wellington State Park where everything was planned to take place. This was partially because I was told the park had to be shut down early the previous weekend due to the number of people trying to get there. My concerns turned out to be unfounded as the crowd was managed smoothly. It is a good thing it was, because there was a considerable number of people in attendance. The overflow parking was overflowing, with a bus shuttling people who were mostly all there to support New Hampshire’s veterans by helping to raise money for them at the park venue.
It was an incredible event, with tasty food and fun family activities. There was face-painting and an obstacle course for the children in attendance, and various tents set up to represent the organizations that were there to inform the public about the services they provided to veterans. These organizations included the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, the Dan Healy Foundation, the National Navy SEAL Museum and Memorial, and Harbor Homes, Inc.
The National Guard was in attendance with a Blackhawk MEDEVAC unit that was one of the first things attendees saw as they entered the park. The goals for the day were to support the event and market the National Guard to attendees to promote awareness of what the Guard does for citizens as well as hopefully get a child excited about flying a helicopter and joining them someday. The helicopter was open for the public to explore and numerous children at the event were gleefully climbing inside and playing pilot.
Swimming, kayaking, and good food: What more could one want from an event like this?
Well, Phil and Julie Taub figured out a way to make the event even more enticing to the public by getting a large group of Navy SEALs to provide a demonstration of some of the work that they do for us. They spent the day setting up for the demonstration.
I got a chance to speak briefly with Mark Hileman from the National Navy SEAL Museum and Memorial about the event. As it was an overcast day, he was hoping the weather would hold for the parachute part of the presentation. I glanced up briefly, hoping it would too.
Mark met Phil at a similar Swim with a Mission event in Florida. According to Mark, Phil was impressed by the event and decided he wanted to make one happen in New Hampshire. He got the SEALs on board, and the rest is history. However, Phil isn’t a guy to sit back and relax now that the event has been successful for two years in a row. According to Mark, “He’s already talking about what I’m going to do to raise the bar next year.”
The event brought in hundreds of swimmers, some of whom swam all the way across the lake and back, and had hundreds of volunteers.
At the beginning of the formal part of the ceremonies, Phil announced that he hoped that the event would cause attendees to be “inspired and interested in learning more about the plight of our veterans,” a situation that many are not aware of at all. Sadly, there are too many veterans who lack access to adequate resources to succeed after they re-enter civilian life.
Phil and Julie Do It All
Governor Sununu opened, saying events like this “define everything New Hampshire’s about.” He then spoke briefly about the way New Hampshire is transforming the way the government approaches providing veteran services. One change is that veteran services are now under the purview of the adjutant general. He also spoke about the fact that New Hampshire became the first state in the country where veterans could receive veteran care in private hospitals.
It was about this time that I found myself getting a little choked up as I looked around me and realized how many people were there to simply support our veterans. As you would expect from an event like this, a lot of the attendees were veterans or their family members. But I was in awe at the number of people in attendance who were not veterans, who were simply there to support members of our ex-military. It was an emotional moment.
Next, they gave out the awards for the swimmers.
The 1k swim award was given in the name of Blake Marston, a Navy SEAL from New Hampshire who died in a parachute training accident a few years ago.
The 5k award was presented in the name of Dan Healy who was killed on a rescue mission that he chose to go on in support of his men, in spite of not having to do so. The award was presented by his mother and other family members. The Dan Healy Foundation helps provide scholarships to students entering military or trade school, veterans living in the Seacoast area of New Hampshire, single mothers, and elementary school children.
The 10k award was given in the name of Jeremiah Fitzgibbons, a friend of Phil Taub, who was hit and killed while on a bike ride just before last year’s event. The woman who won the award swam the race in just a hair over three hours. She went back out and tried to swim the 10k again, but they started pulling buoys, so she had to stop. One of the swimmers, Suzanne Fish, raised over $10,000. After the awards were given out, Greg Kretschmar from Greg and the Morning Buzz got on stage to interview two master chiefs from SEAL team 6, Rick Kaiser and Steve “Mato” Matulewicz. The interview involved an opportunity for members of the audience to ask questions, but there were to be no political questions. “Today is about community, today is about honoring our military,” Kretschmar said. The following discussion covered a range of topics such as the accuracy of TV portrayals of Navy SEALs—about 90 percent inaccurate, they said—to changing viewpoints on PTSD, and the borderline political question of when women would be allowed to become SEALs (as soon as one comes along who can complete the training). They also spoke about the rigors of training and combat as a SEAL and the fact that only 30 percent of people who begin their training as SEALs will complete it.
After the discussion with the two master chiefs concluded, everyone was directed to the beach to watch the beginning part of the Navy SEAL demonstration. There were several spectators joining the crowd from the water, and a police boat monitored the perimeter to ensure everyone maintained a safe distance.
After several minutes of anticipation, a helicopter flew over the lake and then two SEALs with parachutes jumped out. The helo crew did some flips and then headed towards the shore, seemingly about to land right in the middle of the crowd before turning abruptly. Then the helicopter flew back around and hovered about twenty feet above the water as three more SEALs and one of the dogs from the K-9 unit jumped out without parachutes. There was hardly time for oohing and aahing, because everyone quickly rushed back to the main stage in order to gain a good vantage point for the next part of the demonstration. Master Chief Rick Kaiser spoke briefly about what they intended to do and then challenged us to find the sniper. No one was able to, of course. Then he blew up an “ISIS head” (watermelon) on a stick by “shooting” at it from the woods. Obviously, with crowds all around, he didn’t really shoot the watermelon, but it was a fun show.
This was followed by a tactical demonstration of a vehicle interdiction. I was lucky enough to be right next to the car the SEALs were using, and I was eagerly anticipating what they were planning to do. After an exciting demonstration, the bad guys were caught and the SEALs lived to do it again another day. The final demonstration of the day was of the SEAL K-9 unit. The dogs had been milling around the event with their trainers all day; several times, I found myself marveling at how fit and well-trained they were. When it came time for them to show their stuff, I was glad to realize that I would never be on their bad side. As you can see from the video, these dogs do not mess around. And not all dogs make it through SEAL training either. One important quality that they must have is the ability to back down when ordered to, and not all dogs are able to do that.
All in all, the day was a fun and exciting one that was very well managed and that fulfilled a great cause: raising money for veteran aid organizations in New Hampshire. Thank you, Phil and Julie, for all you have done. We eagerly look forward to next year’s event.
If you still want to make a donation you can go to swimwithamission.org and contribute to the cause.