April 2024 Vol. 15

In these newsletters and on our social media pages, we often share testimonials and Sailors’ stories, as well as the journeys that brought those Sailors to the Navy Wounded Warrior (NWW) program. Those stories also exemplify the effort and work each Sailor has put into their journey. Success looks different for each person, and that includes Sailors.

Recently, thirty NWW athletes attended Trials at Hickam Air Force Base in O’ahu, Hawaii. This camp determines the athletes who will go on to represent Team Navy in June at the Warrior Games held at Disney World. Twelve sports have been adapted to accommodate the unique needs of the wounded, ill, and injured participants. Each athlete finds the sport or sports that speak to them and works toward achieving their personal goals and, hopefully, gaining a place on Team Navy.

Navy Safe Harbor Foundation (NSHF) has supported both the veterans and active-duty athletes on their journeys. As in years past, we have provided travel, accommodations, and meals for the veterans not supported through DoD funds. In addition, this year, we are proud to be the Platinum Sponsor for the team. This extends NSHF’s assistance to active-duty athletes, increasing our impact and benefiting more athletes. We are excited about the games and the success the athletes will achieve. GO TEAM NAVY.

Thoughts From Our Board

CDR Christian Decker, USN, (ret)

As a founding member of the Navy Safe Harbor Foundation and an active board member since 2007, my dedication to this cause is resolute. The establishment of the foundation was not solely a professional endeavor; it stemmed from a profound personal connection to the sacrifices made by our sailors and Coast Guard members during the Afghanistan campaign. At the time, I was the Navy’s OPNAV N461 which was responsible for operational security forces a shore with many individual augmentees in Afghanistan. Observing the unwavering spirit and resilience of those who have suffered injuries or fallen ill in the line of duty has fueled my steadfast commitment to the Foundation’s mission. 

The Navy Safe Harbor Foundation serves as a vital source of for those in the Naval services most in need. With a focused approach on addressing the unmet needs of wounded, ill, and injured individuals, the foundation aims to bridge gaps left by federal support limitations. Through an array of programs, including adaptive sports initiatives, caregiver support, mental health resources, and financial aid, we endeavor to provide comprehensive assistance covering various aspects of the transition process.

Our goal is to ensure that no service member faces their challenges alone, empowering them to pursue their aspirations beyond their military service. Our efforts extend beyond providing assistance; we strive to foster a community of support and resilience where every individual feels valued within the Naval services. My dedication to the Foundation transcends mere organizational responsibilities; it is a deeply personal commitment. I am committed to utilizing my time, expertise, and resources to ensure our service members receive the support they deserve. Whether through fundraising endeavors, advocacy for enhanced resources, or direct engagement with those in need, I pledge to uphold my commitment to this cause. 

I extend my gratitude to all who have supported our mission thus far and a special thanks to VADM James Amerault who was the first Chairman when I stood up the foundation. Many heroes in the foundation, like Heidi Weller, who is our Executive Director and Vice Admiral Crenshaw, our Chairman, work tirelessly to protect our cause. Together, let us continue to stand alongside our service members, providing the support they need to thrive beyond their military service.

Looking ahead, our vision entails continued growth and impact. We aim to expand our impact, reaching more service members in need and enhancing the level of support we offer. Through collaboration with government agencies, corporate partners, and generous donors, we are confident in our ability to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those who have sacrificed for our nation.

To achieve this, we rely on the continued support of individuals like you. Whether through donations, volunteering, or raising awareness of our mission, every contribution matters. Together, we can ensure that the Navy Safe Harbor Foundation continues to serve as a beacon of hope for our nation’s maritime heroes. It’s an honor!

Getting to know a Survivor

Heidi Weller

On November 5, Dillon Ripperger traveled to Springfield, VA to attend the second Navy Wounded Warrior Introductory Adaptive Athletic Camp. After being enrolled in the Navy Wounded Warrior Program, he was encouraged to participate in the adaptive athletic program by his Case Manager, Jill Holliger. The introductory camp is designed to introduce sailors to the world of adaptive athletics and help them find support and resilience through sports. Of the 13 sports that are played during the Warrior Games, eight of them were highlighted during this camp. Dillon was excited to get back to archery and precision air sports, anticipating that both would be his sweet spot since he had grown up participating in both sports. He was surprised when wheelchair rugby, a sport he had never heard of before, brought out his inner competitive athlete.

Initially, he envisioned the camp as a unique type of support group that could improve his general health, and attending without friends or family did cause a bit of anxiety for him. But, once introduced to his fellow athletes and coaches, many of them prior athletes, he found support and friendship he hadn’t realized he had been missing. Sharing his story and listening to others share theirs helped him realize he was not alone and allowed him to help others. 

Joining the Navy straight out of high school, Dillon had hoped to find a spot on the Special Forces team. Unfortunately, Dillon’s color deficiency disqualified him, but he found a mission as a Master-at-Arms, responsible for law enforcement and force protection. Over the next 15 years and multiple duty stations, Dillon found not only purpose and achievement but also hardship and adversity. During an exceptionally stressful period in his professional and personal life, he found himself experiencing feelings of despair and hopelessness. Describing himself as hardworking and serious, these new emotions caused anxiety and fear. Hesitant to admit he was having difficulties, he hid his symptoms and hoped they would resolve on their own. An opportunity for a new position brought with it a mandatory psych evaluation where Dillon discussed his feelings and asked for help. Help came but not in the way Dillon expected. Reassigned to a job that did not require firearm handling and in treatment, Dillon worked hard to follow his medical plan and get back to his career and life. After two years, he saw positive changes and was considered fit for duty. He received new orders and transferred to Omaha, Nebraska, to work with the Air Force.

Due to the different requirements of the Air Force, Dillon found himself back on a six-month assessment period and back in limbo. Toward the end of that time, a new treatment plan initiated another six-month review period, stretching his downtime past 12 months. With the extended modifications, Dillon was automatically subjected to a medical board evaluation due to Navy guidelines, ultimately resulting in medical retirement.

Although medical retirement was not the outcome Dillon wanted, he has found purpose and drive in this next phase of his life. He is just four courses away from completing a Firearms Technology and Gunsmithing degree program and is hopeful he can participate in the 2024 Adaptive Athletic program and represent the Navy at the Warrior Games in June. Looking beyond his allotted two-year Adaptive Athletic program participation, he can see himself paying it forward by transitioning from an athlete to a coach in the program and providing support and guidance for other sailors traveling a similar path.

Come play in our 14th Annual Golf Tournament at Westfields Golf Club on Monday, September 30, 2024.

Register  before June 1, 2024 and receive a free mulligan package for your foursome.

Help us support our wounded, ill, and injured sailors!

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