Army veteran Geoffrey Reyes held a kayak steady just before the surf, the white caps of the waves crashing against his knees as he waited for the perfect time to paddle out. The water, he said, was good medicine for his mostly invisible wounds.
Reyes was one of about a dozen veterans who participated Friday at Croatan Beach in surf, paddleboard and kayak lessons hosted by the Wounded Warrior Project in partnership with Virginia Beach Surf Sessions.
Reyes, who lives in Chesapeake, served six years as a Blackhawk mechanic before leaving the Army in 2015.
During this service, Reyes deployed to Afghanistan twice. His parting gift — like many other veterans — was a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis.
“On the first deployment, I lost four buddies on the eve of my birthday,” Reyes said.
One in three veterans live with PTSD. Symptoms can include disturbing thoughts, feelings, or dreams related to events; mental or physical distress; difficulty sleeping and changes in how a person thinks and feels. This can stem from combat, training or military sexual trauma.
“But Wounded Warrior Project events like this helps take my focus off those things that bother me on a regular basis,” Reyes said, motioning to the group of fellow veterans.
Katie Schrecker, peer support team member for the Wounded Warrior Project, said its goal is to keep veterans active and connected, as well as help them access benefits, employment resources and support groups.
“The suicide rate for veterans is 22 a day, so just the fact that folks know they are not alone in what they are going through, I think will eventually bring that number down,” Schrecker said.
As part of the peer support team, Schrecker trains warriors to run peer support groups and other project events.
“It is like our logo. There (are) a lot of warriors that have hit rock bottom and needed to be carried, and when they get to a better place, they give back by carrying other warriors,” Schrecker said.
Ashley Beck, of Norfolk, was one of those warriors.
“These guys dug me out,” Beck said. “Picture in your head a vet in the middle of the night who is saying ‘I am going to drink myself to death or takes a bunch of pills.’ But you gotta reach out to someone somewhere.”
Beck, who suffers from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury, reached out to the Wounded Warrior Project in late 2020 about six months after she retired from the Navy. Two years later, she attends multiple events and expos and encourages others to connect with the program.
“If I had not found Wounded Warriors, I would not be alive today,” Beck said. “I was so alone during my transition out of the military. But you don’t have to be alone.”
For more information on the Wounded Warrior Project and the services the organization offers, visit https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/.
Caitlyn Burchett, 727-267-6059, firstname.lastname@example.org