Yearly Archives: 2015

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For veteran Chris Tomlin of San Diego, the reminders of war are gradually fading amid the ocean waves and comforts of a home. The U.S. Marine, who sustained a traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq, is a lifelong surfer who says he finds peace as a homeowner — and helping others learn how to surf.

After three tours of duty in Iraq, the former bomb diffuser says he has fought his way back to normalcy. Today, he works with nonprofits to support other veterans with disabilities and share the healing of the waves with them….

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Operation Amped is having a Veteran’s day surf program at Moonlight Beach for vets, non vets and wounded warriors to celebrate Veteran’s Day. We are calling this Vets Honoring Vets. It is in connection with our American Legion in Encinitas and also with the City of Encinitas.

We will be getting to the beach at 8:00AM to set up and register everyone. At 9:00AM we will hit the surf and just have fun. We have a ton of sponsors and our goal is to have over 400 people at the beach that day!!! At 10:15AM we will clear the beach because at 10:30AM we will have the Marine Jumping Leathernecks Skydiving onto Moonlight Beach carrying the American Flag. We are having Amy Suggs sing the Star Spangled Banner as the flag drops to the beach.

At 11:00AM we are all going over to the Legion for lunch. The Mayor and the Legion Commander will speak at 1 and then we will have a raffle of several surf boards, and other great prizes.

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When surfers speak of “stoke” they are not just engaging in Spicoli surfer speak. Surfing, done right, delivers a tremendous psychological high.

Paddling hard in the ocean, catching waves, riding waves, and plunging into an environment can be as dangerous as it is thrilling: People who start surfing learn that “stoke” is an overall feeling of physical and mental cleanliness that can lead to a lifetime obsession with riding waves in the ocean.

For veterans returning home from foreign wars with physical and mental injuries, that stoked stimulation can mean the difference between elation and depression, and even between a good life and a tragic death.

According to the Wounded Warrior Project, as of July 1, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had wounded 52,343, with an estimated 320,000 suffering from traumatic brain injuries and 400,000 suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

These veterans all require care and rehabilitation, and the Veterans Administration is aided by private organizations like Operation Amped, a group of veterans, surfers, medical professionals and volunteers whose mission is:

“To share the ‘stoke’ of the surfing community and the healing potential of surfing with seriously ill, injured, or disabled U.S. military veterans and their families. Our vision is of a surfing community that demonstrates appreciation for the sacrifices of servicemen and women with its welcoming environment and sharing the grounding and healing of surfing.”

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Staff Sergeant Matthew L. Slade is not a professional photographer. If he wanted to take a photo two months ago, he’d have used his cell phone. Despite no prior formal photography training, Slade now looks every bit the professional as he walks up and down San Onofre Beach with a tripod and camera in hand, crouching in the sand and on the rocks looking to capture the moment.

Slade is a wounded warrior and student of Wounded Warrior Battalion West’s photography class, fStop.

“fStop is a group of men and women who are learning to become amateur photographers at Wounded Warrior Battalion,” said Slade. “It teaches a different way to cope with our injuries.”

Slade recently had the opportunity to practice the skills he learned in fStop during Operation Amped. Operation Amped is an annual weekend surfing event open to Wounded Warriors and their families. Operation Amped’s mission is to share the surfing community and the healing potential of surfing with seriously ill, injured, or disabled U.S. military veterans and their families.

“I just wanted to take photos originally, because I thought that was cool,” said Slade. “But I’ve really become interested in it and it’s become a really important hobby for me.”

Slade, a former Marine recruiter, has found more than just a hobby in fStop.

“It’s a lot of great people doing fun stuff,” said Slade. “It’s like a family. It offers a group that knows you and gets you and we take photos together.”

Master Sergeant Hugo L. Gonzalez is another student of fStop.

“I was taking photos for a long time, but I never actually knew the ins and outs of a camera, how to operate it,” said Gonzalez. “I think it’s another way to help out, for those of us who enjoy taking photos, getting out there and shooting. I find it’s therapeutic, a different way to cope with whatever is going on. Photography works for me.”

Photography isn’t the only hobby that works for Gonzalez. On the beach, Gonzalez is a surfer.

“I’ve been surfing for about two months now,” said Gonzalez. “I started with the Jimmy Miller Foundation, they come to the battalion every two weeks, taking us out to Del Mar Beach and teaching us to paddle and stand.”

Where fStop gives him a chance to enjoy photography, Operation Amped gave Gonzalez an opportunity to explore surfing with a weekend on the beach and lessons from volunteer instructors.

“Just being around the ocean is very therapeutic,” said Gonzales. “As a kid I grew up around the ocean and now being near it just makes me feel a lot better.”

Gonzalez, a motor transport operator, has found many opportunities to stay active while healing from his injury.

“I wish I could clone myself because there is so much offered at the battalion,” said Gonzales. “I try to take part in everything, but I also don’t want to take it away from the Marines. I try to make sure all the junior Marines get a chance to participate and if there’s anything left, I volunteer for it.”

Once Slade was done shooting for the day, Gonzalez suggested he come back the next day and learn to surf.

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