ALEXANDRIA — An expanding fundraiser to help organizations that provide services to veterans is bringing in the horses this year.
Now in its third year, Swim With a Mission has added a new event, Whiskers and Whiskey, to a lineup that already included swimming contests and demonstrations by Navy SEALS and their combat dogs.
Organizers Phil and Julie Taub, who raised $1.2 million for veterans in the first two years of the event, have set a $1 million single-year goal for 2019. The main event takes place at Wellington State Park in Alexandria on Saturday, July 13, but prior to that is a paintgun-shooting event in Center Barnstead on Thursday, July 11, and the Whiskers and Whiskey event at the Ladd Farm in Bridgewater on Friday, July 12.
Brenda and Jon Ladd explained how the new event came about on the Swim With a Mission website, https://www.swimwithamission.org:
“Last year Ladd Farm had the privilege to host the Navy SEALs and their dogs during Swim With A Mission. … The SEALs enjoyed themselves tremendously at the farm — training and playing in the indoor arena and in the hills and fields and woods. At times we were not sure how many men and dogs were actually on the property.
“We got to thinking … why not showcase the dogs’ and SEALs’ amazing capabilities? Present their training, and have an enhanced demonstration with real-life scenarios — attack and rescue.”
The demonstrations will show how dogs can serve in stressful situations, and then horses will be brought in to go through the same sets of exercises, according to Phil Taub.
Retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc of Stratham will open the program at the Ladd Farm, talking about the roles that dogs and horses play during combat. Bolduc rode a horse during his service in Afghanistan.
Bolduc also will discuss how dogs and horses can help veterans deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“All the money raised that day will fund a new equine program for vets with PTSD at the Ladd Farm,” Taub said. “Right now they have to go to southern New Hampshire or Massachusetts to get these programs. The people running those programs will be there to talk about it as well.”
Admission is free, but spectators will have to register on the Swim With a Mission website because attendance at the farm will be limited to 300 people, Taub said. Those who go will have an opportunity to take selfies with the SEAL dogs.
Nineteen teams have signed up for Thursday’s Paintshoot event at OSG Paintball in Center Barnstead. Fifteen teams participated in last year’s event, which costs $25,000 per team.
“It’s a lot of money,” Taub acknowledged in an interview, “but the idea is that it’s a team-building event, so we offer these companies a way to have leadership training and team-building. A lot of these companies pay way more than $25,000 a year bringing in speakers and taking people on trips, so we’ve created a unique event with the Navy SEALs.”
Each team of 10 participants will have a Navy SEAL assigned to them to provide leadership training and team-building exercises similar to what the SEALs go through to improve mental acuity. After the morning session, the teams will go out to the paintball field to put those skills to the test in a competition.
In addition to the Paintshoot teams, the Taubs expect to see 280 swimmers and 10,000 spectators at Wellington State Park on Saturday for the main event, which includes swimming, kayaking and demonstrations in the waters of Newfound Lake.
“There will be swimming in the morning,” Phil Taub said, noting that, with 120 swimmers participating last year, the number has more than doubled for 2019.
There will be 1K, 5K, 10K, and 10K team relays for the swimming event.
“The big thing that’s new,” Taub said, “is that, after last year’s K9 event, the Manchester Police Department, which has the largest K9 unit in New Hampshire, publicly challenged the Navy SEALs’ K9 unit. … The challenge between the SEALs and Manchester is going to get settled on the beach.”
Video challenges between the SEALS and the Manchester K9 unit are posted on the Swim With a Mission website.
“The truth is, everybody loves dogs, and it’s been such a great response when the Manchester police threw out that challenge,” Taub said.
The Taubs have spent time on Newfound Lake for more than three decades, and decided the lake's clear waters would be the perfect place to attract swimmers and kayakers for a fundraiser to benefit veterans. Phil Taub said they became aware of how much veterans’ needs have been ignored while attending town hall meetings during the last presidential election cycle.
“I felt like there were some very good organizations that do good work for veterans, but they don’t have enough people or enough money,” he said.
In its inaugural year, Swim With a Mission attracted 75 swimmers from around the country, bringing in $371,000. Participation increased to 140 swimmers in 2018, raising $829,000 to benefit the nonprofits that serve veterans.
This year’s fundraiser will benefit Veterans Count, the Dan Healy Foundation, Children of Fallen Patriots, the Elite Meet, and the Navy SEAL Museum-Trident House Charities.
“We want to show our veterans that they are appreciated,” Taub said, “and keep the public engaged with our veterans and the struggles they face.”
The organizations that receive support from Swim With a Mission are providing employment opportunities, scholarships, the training of special service dogs, and tuition assistance for the children of both active and deceased veterans. They also provide emergency financial assistance, deployment support, mental health and substance misuse services, counseling, respite care, and grants to single parents.
The event at Wellington State Park also includes music, drawings, food, and appearances by Black Hawk helicopters. There will 30 Navy SEALs attending, with a SEAL swimming with the team that raises the most money. There are prizes for various fundraising levels.
During the afternoon, there will be a presentation by Gov. Chris Sununu, as well as appearances by several military officials.
Taub stressed that Swim With a Mission is about helping veterans.
“This has nothing to do with being political,” Taub said. “It’s nonpartisan and nonpolitical. This is just about our veterans. Both parties have their differences, but everyone agrees on our veterans.”
Specifically addressing the appearance of Bolduc, who has announced he is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate, Taub said, “I asked him to come before he’d announced that he’d be running against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.”
He said that, over the past three years, he has met many veterans in need of help in New Hampshire.
“Three years ago, we were barely scratching the surface in terms of meeting their needs. To see how many we’re helping is just incredible.”