by Erin McNelis

operation enduring warrior

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Servicemen and women are used to challenging themselves physically and mentally on a daily basis as they do their jobs. For many who come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, that ability to challenge themselves seems lost. The organization Operation Enduring Warrior is helping wounded veterans get it back. The organization helps veterans physically challenge themselves through feats of athleticism that might seem impossible.

The organization began as an answer to a need seen at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington D.C., one of the nation’s largest military medical centers. “We saw a need for a different way to help veterans,” says Ray Liberty, Vice President of Development and veteran. “No one was getting them out and active. Imagine being at the prime of life, and losing an arm or legs. We needed to find a way to get them motivated.”

The organization’s founders, a group of veterans themselves, began running obstacle course races in honor of the wounded, but some of the honorees didn’t just want to be honored anymore. They wanted to participate themselves. Now the organization’s Masked Athlete Team assists veterans on the athletic field in obstacle courses like Tough Mudder and Spartan. (Search OEW on youtube to see their inspiring teamwork.) The Masked Athlete Team wears the gas mask that serves as the organization’s logo.

“The mask is put on and taken off behind a curtain,” says Liberto. “You never see the participant with the gas mask off, because the race isn’t about the individual athlete. It’s about the people they are honoring.” The mask also takes about 10 percent of the participant’s breathing capacity and gives them discomfort as a physical reminder of what those who have no legs are going through. “It is kind of intimidating with 10 or 15 people in masks, and some of them are racing on prosthetic legs,” says Liberto.

Intimidating and inspiring. The organization gains more supporters with every race and has now branched out, offering SCUBA diving and sky diving programs for wounded veterans that allows amputees to get SCUBA and sky diving certificates.

Operation Enduring Warrior is completely fueled by volunteer power. Most of the fundraising is done by Community Ambassadors, and many of them are people who have seen the members of the organization out on a race course and get motivated to support them. More than 700 people have run races wearing OEW gear and carrying the organization’s flags.

Around 22 veterans commit suicide every day, and according to Liberto, many of them are of the Vietnam era or older. “They feel like there is nothing for them,” says Liberto. “We want to reach out to this generation. We are here for them.” The organization just took their first Vietnam veteran out on his first Spartan race. “He said that for the first time since he came home, he feels like he came home.”

The money raised by the organization goes back into the program to help veterans. The organization’s long-term goal is to have enough money to purchase property to hold veteran retreats. Veterans could visit for a week at a time and hike, fish, sit by the campfire, and enjoy themselves.

To learn more about Operation Enduring Warrior and to volunteer, please visit enduringwarrior.org.

 

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