DAV supports skydiving charity that gives veterans an emotional lift
For Army veteran John Looker, the sense of freedom was as much about finally opening up with his fellow veterans as it was the freefall from thousands of feet above the ground during a skydiving weekend event in 2021.
The Blue Skies For The Good Guys and Gals Warrior Foundation offers a rare chance to really connect with other veterans, said Looker, who served during Vietnam and is now a DAV life member and adjutant of Chapter 59 in Mason, Ohio.
“It completely allowed me to open up for the first time,” he said.
For more than 12 years, Blue Skies has brought small groups of combat-injured veterans and Gold Star families to participate in the nonprofit’s signature weekend event to heal and connect. Participants can also take it easy and go fishing, visit a firing range or relax around a campfire. The foundation has received a $25,000 grant from the DAV Charitable Service Trust to support the Warrior Weekend to Remember and various reunion events.
“DAV is pleased to support a community working to show disabled veterans the care, support and devotion they have earned from our beloved country,” said Trust President Richard Marbes. “Blue Skies fulfills a Trust goal of working with groups that improve veterans’ quality of life and prevent suicides.”
Looker said that until he was surrounded by other veterans at Blue Skies, he had never felt comfortable talking about how his life changed after being shot during a firefight in Vietnam. Event participants all have experiences that, while different, can be hard for others to truly understand.
“When you get there, you’re leery about it. But by the time Friday night or Saturday night comes along, it’s like you’ve known them all their lives,” he said.
Blue Skies grew out of co-founder and former Army Ranger David Hart’s Ohio-based skydiving company, which began offering tandem jumps for veterans.
Warrior Weekend to Remember was established to support veterans year-round. Volunteers make sure veterans have someone to call when things are not going well, and there are monthly meetings and other chances to check in. The four-day weekend event is often a first experience with the group, and Hart said Blue Skies seeks out veterans who are struggling with mental health concerns.
“It’s pretty incredible what happens by just having fun,” Hart said. “There’s no forced agenda; you’re not going to have to relive your trauma. We’re just here to show that we care about you.”
Myles Smith, an Army veteran of the Iraq War, said he was apprehensive about going to Warrior Weekend. He opened up when he realized he was surrounded by veterans who could relate to his experience of being wounded by a roadside bomb.
Smith said he was in a dark place before Blue Skies. The father of four credits the nonprofit with providing him the support network he needed whenever things get tough.
“We are like family,” Smith said.
Marine Corps Vietnam veteran Richard Schroeder said he had never gone skydiving before a friend talked him into going to Blue Skies in August 2021.
“I was like a bird in the sky, that’s what it felt like. Just peaceful and floating around,” said Schroeder, a DAV life member in Chapter 19 in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. “Of course, I wore my DAV shirt. I’m very proud of that.”
It is, according to Hart, a safe place for veterans to let their guard down.
“We don’t provide therapy,” Hart said. “We provide love.”