Friday, June 01, 2012
Dispatch to SML
"Salute to Heroes" program sends veterans on fishing jaunt, to 4-H shooting and archery range.
KYLE GREEN The Roanoke Times
Captain Kathy Franceschini (middle, above photo) with Spike's Prime-Time Fishin' looks through binoculars with Joe Yantz (right) and Erik Stolhanske (left). Members of the SML Pistol Shooting Association and Blackwater Bowhunting Club (right) helped out at the 4-H Center.
KYLE GREEN The Roanoke Times
Joe Yantz (left) and Erik Stolhanske enjoy lunch together on the bow of a boat during a fishing trip with members of the Smith Mountain Striper Club for the Freedom Alliances' injured servicemen (Wounded Warriors) program. Yantz lost a leg in Afghanistan to a pressure plate IED while serving in the Army Infantry. He caught a 27-inch striper during the trip.
May 23 marked a special anniversary for Jeremiah Harrold.
"Three years ago Wednesday was the last day I got blown up," said the retired Naval corpsman while sitting at a picnic table at the 4-H Center at Smith Mountain Lake last week. "I spent it here. It was the best day."
Harrold was one of about a dozen veterans who traveled to the lake last week for "Salute To Our Heroes: Smith Mountain Lake," a program organized by the Freedom Alliance.
Among its activities, the military-support organization sets up excursions around the country for veterans, said Pepper Ailor, director of programs at Freedom Alliance.
Ailor, who found the nonprofit after an asthma attack during the Marines' Officer Candidate School kept him out of the military, said the excursions are organized to thank veterans by giving them an opportunity to come together and participate in recreational activities.
At the lake, the veterans spent a full day fishing courtesy of the Smith Mountain Striper Club. The following day, they tried their hands at the 4-H Center's shooting range and archery range. The SML Pistol Shooting Association and Blackwater Bowhunting Club volunteered to lead the respective programs.
"You see how this thing comes together because of the community," said Ailor. "They all want to get involved."
He said the lake community has been very supportive, having hosted Freedom Alliance for the second year. Ailor said it's a way for people to thank the veterans for their service. And the veterans are extremely thankful for the support.
"I go to maybe two or three events a year through Freedom Alliance," said Harrold. "These few events are what keep me going all year. â? It's therapeutic."
That's mentally and emotionally therapeutic. Harrold doesn't often find himself around people who understand the trauma he's been through, people with whom he can relax around and crack jokes.
Like when Army Spc. Joe Yantz asked if Harrold wanted him to carry Harrold's crossbow down to the archery range. Harrold said yes, but tapped the Remington .45 at his hip and warned Yantz, whose right leg was amputated below the hip after he stepped on an IED, that he'd shoot Yantz in his only leg if he dropped the crossbow.
The two rib each other because they, like the other veterans who attended the program, share a combat camaraderie that Harrold said most people just can't comprehend.
The 25-year-old North Wilkesboro, N.C., resident did three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He's been shot in the leg and the chest. IED blasts have left him with herniated discs and bulging discs in his back and neck. During one deployment, Harrold did combat missions for two weeks with three broken leg bones, while carrying 200 pounds worth of gear.
"I didn't know it was broken," he said. "The VA wants to amputate my leg because it's not getting any better."
Sitting beside Harrold was Erik Stolhanske, an actor known for his roles in comedy films such as "Super Troopers" and "Beerfest." He's not known for his own leg amputation at 3 years old, having been born without a lower leg bone, and lifetime with prosthetics.
Stolhanske was a featured speaker - he did not charge for his appearance - at the Freedom Alliance event. Stolhanske said he planned to talk about how people can overcome limitations to do amazing things when they believe in themselves and have others who support them.
"I can't really compare myself to these guys," said Stolhanske. "I haven't been through half of what they've been through."
After listening to Harrold's war stories, Stolhanske called the veteran "the real Iron Man," but then his face turned serious.
"It's amazing to be around heroes," he said. "[They] have served our country and they deserve a lot in return."