There’s a truth only those of us who have lived through the rigors of 26 weeks of BUD/S training know: You do not make friends from the first running or swimming evolution. You don’t even necessarily bond during Hell Week when all the usual difficulties of training for air, land and sea warfare are dialed up a notch. Or five.
The reality is, friendships don’t form unless, and until, you’re one of the 20 percent or so left standing when the physical, emotional and psychological training is finally done. It’s only after you’ve not quit like dozens of others do; or washed out, as dozens of others also do, that you begin to forge bonds with your classmates.
So we walked in among our classmates in 1978, we had no idea that some of us would become lifelong friends. At the outset, we all were nothing more to each other than the other guys who had to get up with us at 4:30 a.m. and push our bodies and minds past what we thought were going to be their breaking points. Week by week, those of us who stuck around got more familiar and comfortable with each other.
After graduation, some of us shared assignments, and over time a few of us became close friends. Some of us joined the SEALs, other applied their skills to careers like law enforcement or firefighting. But we all began to truly appreciate what BUD/S training had allowed all of us to do with our lives.
In our initial days with the SEALs, it seemed like a fun job, but as we got into it, we realized it was much more. We were doing things not everybody got to do. We’re not talking about the details of the work or the missions so much – the tactical and dangerous nature of what we did. We’re talking about the opportunity to help others – to live a life dedicated to the service of their well-being.
That’s the bond that continues to tie BUD/S Class 98 together. Sure, we swapped Hell Week stories at our 40th reunion last year, caught up on the marriages and children and grandchildren. Discussed retirement, or post-retirement careers for those not ready to head out to pasture just yet. But we also talked a lot about the meaning our work gave to our lives. Even though we rarely knew whom we had helped, and they sure didn’t know us given the sanctity of the secrecy of our service, we agreed to a man that there was nothing like the sense of purpose and accomplishment that comes with knowing what we had done benefited others in profound ways.
We talked about it so much, in fact, we decided to do more than talk about it.
That’s why eight of us have formed Beyond the Teams, pooling the mental and physical resources honed over 200 combined years of service in scores of countries to assist the unsung heroes facing physical disabilities, cultural disadvantages and practical needs going unmet because they are the “little guys.” Our battlefield is no longer the theater of war. It’s the world of fundraising.
And we can’t wait to get started.
New nonprofit Beyond the Teams to take on fundraising missions for ‘unsung heroes facing physical disabilities and cultural disadvantages’
Former Navy SEALs who have served in some of the most strategically important – and dangerous – military hot spots across the globe are joining together again in retirement to undertake a new mission: deploying into fund-raising events for organizations and causes that help people with physical disabilities, cultural disadvantages and practical needs going unmet because they are the “little guys.”
The inaugural mission for the group calling itself Beyond the Teams is a 1,000-mile ride down the East Coast of the U.S. from Oct. 29 to Nov. 9. Eight riders, all classmates from BUD/S class 98, will start from the epicenter of Naval Special Warfare in Virginia Beach, Va., and finish at the birthplace of Navy Frogmen/SEALs in Ft. Pierce, Fla. The ride will benefit VIP NeuroRehabilitation Center in San Diego.
“America has given us much, and it’s our duty to give something back,” explained Mike Charbonnet, founder of Beyond the Teams. “Some of us are grandfathers now, and we love the freedom retirement offers to spend more time with family. But we hope that even though we may be a few years older, and a couple of steps slower, we still have something to give to those unsung who desperately need the help.”
VIP is a nonprofit center that provides physical therapy, educates patients and families about neurological conditions and supplies resources about nutrition, stress reduction and the benefits of exercise. It’s one of Southern California’s leaders in neurorehabilitation therapy, challenging patients 4 years old and up physically in a supportive and caring environment. Its mission is to bring top-quality outpatient neuro-rehabilitation care to disabled military, veterans, children, and others in need, focusing on those who have difficulty moving due to stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), brain injury, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury and multiple traumas.
Beyond the Teams has a personal connection to the center and its life-changing work, as well. Charbonnet’s son was treated at VIP after being paralyzed in a skydiving accident. He not only experienced physical improvement through the treatment he received, but he also credits the center with feeding his spirits and returning hope and joy to his life. He was so impressed by VIP, and it with him, that he now serves as its director.
The bike ride will travel to Plymouth, N.C.; Cherry Point, N.C.; Wilmington, N.C.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Brunswick, Ga.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Daytona Beach. Fla. The longest leg will be 105 miles, the shortest just under 53.
Team members are excited to get moving.
“We’d like to think we bring the same passion and purpose to our fund-raising missions as we did to our SEAL missions,” Charbonnet said. “Our military training and service taught us we are stronger as a unit than as individuals, so we pool our resources to serve. It is our hope our past work helps draw interest to our new work. Not to publicize ourselves, but to raise awareness of, and money for, those we serve.”
The idea for Beyond the Teams was birthed when the organization’s chairman, Mike Charbonnet, undertook a fundraising bike ride last August to benefit a deeply personal cause. His son, David, a former SEAL himself who broke his back parachuting in 2011, is paralyzed below mid-abdomen. Today, he is not only a patient but CEO of VIP NeuroRehabilitation Center in San Diego. Charbonnet’s bike ride last summer, just him going from San Francisco to San Diego, was to raise money for VIP.
Mike talked at his BUD/S Class 98 reunion about how fun and fulfilling that bike ride was. He invited the guys to join him in something similar to it … and they dove in enthusiastically. Except they quickly realized their vision was bigger than just another one-off bike ride. They wanted to create a fundraising nonprofit because America has given them much, they believe, and they see it as their duty to give something back.
For their first deployment as a team, they are returning to VIP NeuroRehabilitation Hospital – with a 1,000-mile ride down the East Coast of the U.S. from Oct. 29 to Nov. 9. David Charbonnet will take part in piloting a hand cycle.
VIP is a nonprofit center that provides physical therapy, educates patients and families regarding neurological conditions and supplies resources about nutrition, stress reduction and the benefits of exercise. It’s one of Southern California’s leaders in neurorehabilitation therapy, challenging patients 4 years old and up physically in a supportive and caring environment. Its mission is to bring top quality outpatient neuro-rehabilitation care to disabled military, veterans, children and to all who are in need, focusing on those who have difficulty moving due to stroke, multiple sclerosis, brain injury, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury or multiple traumas.
The money raised will be used for patient scholarships and state-of-the-art equipment to help with the clinic’s life-changing work. Many people don’t realize that insurance only covers so many visits for those who need the care the center offers, and treatment and rehabilitation can cost upwards of $125 an hour. Dozens of patients need ongoing treatment — and insurance is no longer an option for them.
Another often overlooked truth is that every veteran does not have full benefits. Coverage can be hard to come by for those with less service time. Even some who have insurance are not customarily treated by most providers the way they can be treated at VIP. The VA’s approach to treatment is to help patients with neuromuscular diseases and injuries to adapt to life in a wheelchair. VIP’s aim is to treat them to live more independently.
So the “little” improvements VIP delivers make radical changes in patients’ lives — everything from increased grip strength to increased flexibility and mobility. Many of these improvements come courtesy of life-changing equipment like the LocoMat, State-of-the-art both in terms of creating and monitoring movement, the machine — think high-tech treadmill that moves a patient’s legs and records neural function — helps create biofeedback in the brain that aids recovery. VIP has one LocoMat but could use a second. No other equipment offers the rehabilitation benefits of the LocoMat, and for that reason, time is at a premium. A second machine would double the rehab time for the patients most in need of it.
The team’s hope is to raise the money for another and pay the costs of patients in need, with the bike ride. It’s the least they feel they can do for their fellow Americans.