As I write this, two C-130 military planes lumber loudly over our offices in Reno. It’s not that the pens on my desk roll away or my coffee sloshes out of the mug, but you can’t help to identify the military veterans of the sky as they fly over. Being in the airport’s flightpath, from our conference room window, oftentimes, we’ll also see not one or two, but often three F-18 Hornets (watch the Top Gun: Maverick trailer) make their rounds from the Naval Air Station in Fallon, NV, known for their Top Gun school. Out of a Calvin and Hobbs comic strip, I’ve interrupted numerous meetings to say, “Look, there’s another one and another one” wishing to join the men and women onboard. I’m sure my coworkers wouldn’t be surprised if I put my hand on my heart and started singing, “My country tis of thee” the next time these military jets fly over.
There’s not a large military presence here, but every once in a while, you’ll see someone in a uniform from our National Guard. However, this past January, the entire Raving team and the attendees from Raving NEXT: Indian Gaming Analytics & Marketing Conference heard the story of one veteran that left us absolutely still in our seats.
Recovery, Motivation and Determination
Retired, Army Staff Sergeant, Ian Newland, enrolled member of the Chiricahua Apache Nation, took the stage in his full uniform last January, introduced by Raving’s, Brady Scott. The team had anticipated this for months after he agreed to be our keynote, knowing his story of recovery, motivation, and determination.
With strong emotion, he shed light on the many challenges of our military personnel as they adjust to life as civilians. Suicide among veterans continues to be higher than the rest of the population.
Ian joined the Army after being impacted by the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. On his second deployment to Iraq in August 2006, his unit would become the hardest hit unit in 20 years – assigned to the bloody NE sector of Baghdad.
On December 4, 2006, Ian’s convoy was ambushed by enemy fighters. During the ambush, an enemy fighter threw a hand grenade into Ian’s truck. His gunner, 19-year old, Ross A. McGinnis, jumped on the hand grenade, giving his life to save the other four soldiers in the truck.
An “Iron Man” Survivor
Ian was severely injured in the grenade attack, and what followed was years of physical pain, life-threatening post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. Ian shared with the audience that he is a survivor and he’s been using his experience to help others. He’s an “iron man” in more ways than one, and he shared photos post-service in a wheelchair, being told that he’d never walk again. The man in front of us was in extraordinary physical shape and regularly competes in grueling physical challenges including the annual Bataan Memorial Death March, which he does annually with his wife Crystal Mai Purdy-Newland.
American Red Cross Military Hero
So, yes, Ian’s wife. If his story wasn’t inspiring enough, we were fortunate to meet Crystal, who is deeply committed to veterans and currently oversees the Homeless Veteran Burial Program in Portland through her role at Dignity Memorial Park. She was honored by the American Red Cross Military Hero, and I invite you to watch the video about the work that she does. It’s worth your time to do so. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXAgxiwynrU
I caught up with Crystal last week. For those of you who were as inspired by the Newland’s as I was, following are some ways you can be part of their veteran’s awareness initiatives, especially if you’re located in the Pacific Northwest.
Improving the Live’s of Others
Ian shared at the conference that he’s passionate about health and how healthy food is critical to mind and body and recovery for veterans. He graduated from culinary school October 15 and is working for Epic Catering outside of Portland and is hoping to put on his chef’s hat for restaurant they are opening next year. His long-term vision is to create a non-profit, using his experience to help veterans to get in shape and learn about healthy eating by providing meal prep, cooking classes and education.
The couple have also started a program “Honor Hikes” where they take people out into the wilderness to find peace and healing through nature. “We live in such a beautiful part of the country in the Northwest. Our goal is to get people off of their couches, away from alcohol and drugs,” Crystal told me. She added, “These hikes are also a way to honor the people who have sacrificed for us.” Hikes vary in intensity and are free. Crystal shared, “We encourage people to bring the memory of someone with them as they do this hike.” The next one is scheduled for November 16, a challenging 14-mile hike at the Cascade Trail, near Lincoln City, OR.
As an extension to the Honor Hikes, Crystal is also working on a fundraiser called “Twenty for Twenty” – twenty miles in the year 2020 benefiting the Military Muscle Foundation. The mission is to raise awareness and reduce veteran suicide through physical activity that heals the mind, body and soul. A work in process, she’d love to have our readers participate in the event by volunteering or hiking it. Tomorrow, Crystal will be holding services for two unclaimed veterans at Dignity Memorial which is open to the community.
For more information on the Honor Hikes or “Twenty for Twenty” please contact Crystal directly at [email protected].
Today, with honor, we thank all of our veterans and to the many people like the Newlands that are paying it forward.