Luke Airmen assist disabled veterans at ski clinic

  • Published
  • By Ryan Mattox
  • Defense Media Activity-San Antonio
A team of eight Airmen from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., volunteered their time and energy to drive 15 hours and assist nearly 400 disabled veterans participate in a winter sports rehabilitation clinic here. 

The team is spending a week helping disabled veterans experience the 23rd National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic that began March 29 and ends April 3 at Snowmass Village, Colo.  

According to VA officials, it is the largest adaptive event of its kind in the world.

The clinic, a six-day event, teaches veterans with disabilities skills in adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing, and introduces them to a number of other recreational activities and sports, such as rock climbing, scuba diving, trap shooting and sled hockey. They can also participate in additional events and workshops. 

According to event officials, for an event of this size there is a lot of planning and coordination. 

"It takes teamwork, belief and people buying into what we do here," said Sandy Trombetta, the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic director. "Everyone who comes to this event owns it. It's that sense of ownership by every individual that makes it work. You can create the greatest plan in the world, but unless you have people who really buy in and are willing do whatever it takes to succeed you are not going to go anywhere and that what happens here." 

To be part of that team, Tech. Sgt. Richard Layton, a 56th Maintenance Group weapons training manager and a veteran of the winter clinic, coordinated this team and prepared them for the trip. While here, it is his job to act as the liaison between the event coordinators and the team. 

Sergeant Layton said after doing this for six years, the coordination is pretty smooth now and support for the team has been great. The team's mission is to assist the veterans and prepare the event sites. 

"We want to take the veteran where they want to go and it's up to us to create an environment where they have easy access and opportunity and not have to worry about anything and do things on their own," Mr. Trombetta said. "We provide the support so that can happen." 

The team spent the first two days helping more than 200 veterans as they arrived at the airport, assisting them getting off the plane, with their luggage and getting transportation to Snowmass Village. The rest of the week, the team spent setting up equipment, preparing staging areas, building wheelchair ramps and anything else that needs to be done. 

The majority of the work during the week is spent transporting veterans to the various events. When the event ends, the team will tear down the events and head back to the airport and load the passengers on their planes and leave for their home station. 

"There are a lot of intangibles that happen during the day, but it's the willingness of the people who are there during that moment in time to make things work that makes it all work," Mr. Trombetta said. 

Some of the team members stated it was their first time coming here and said they jumped at that the opportunity to help veterans. 

"I never really have been involved with veterans and I hope I can learn something from them while I am here. It makes me feel awesome to help," said Airman 1st Class David Hague, a jet engine mechanic from Luke AFB. "You can see the joy in their faces when they get out and participate." 

For the more experienced team members, they said it was seeing the veterans' expressions for first time. 

"Some of these veterans are coming here for the first time and to see the look on their faces to hear their expressions is great," Sergeant Layton said. "They are scared. They don't know what is going on. They may never have seen snow or been skiing down a mountain. However, at the end of the week they are a completely different person. It's the joy and pride of helping them that makes this opportunity so great." 

The assistance the team has provided while they have been here has not gone unnoticed. 

"For the veterans, seeing the Luke team in their uniforms really put these veterans at ease," said Henry Bullock, coordinator for transportation for the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. "The team has been invaluable and they really have helped me getting the veterans out to their events." 

"I have been doing this for a long time, but I never fail to get excited about seeing the excitement and enthusiasm of the people who help us with the event," Mr. Trombetta said. 

Comment on this story   (comments may be published on Air Force Link)

View the comments/letters page