Healing Voyage: Soldiers set sail on a course for the journey back from war

Healing Voyage

(WVUE) - Sailors from both sides of Lake Pontchartrain are stepping up to help those who fought for our country. They are braving the winds and the waves for wounded warriors, who are also getting on board.

On a gorgeous early fall afternoon, sailors head to the lake via Bayou Castine. They're gathering for a regatta, like they do dozens of times each year, but this race is special.

"PYC has been trying to find out how to help wounded warriors," said Albert Bacque. "We just wanted to get them going on teamwork with a different environment."

It's a far cry from the bloody sands of Iraq or the often fatal mountains of Afghanistan. Today, wounded warriors gather on shiny sailboats, on a gorgeous lake, to deal with issues of war that often linger.

"The biggest thing is losing that sense of purpose, and if you're on high alert 24/7 over there, and to come back and adjust to normal life, that's the biggest thing," said James Harrington.

Former soldiers, injured in war, trade in the tools of war for jibsheets,  spinnakers, and the boat's wheel. They are guided by those who also know the pain of war and the road back.

"As a veteran myself having being forgotten in Vietnam., just putting in a little effort to get some rehab or whatever it is to make things right," said Brian Keating.

Tanya Whitney favors her left arm after years in the military, lugging gear.

"Being a 40-year-old soldier wearing 80 pounds of gear wears on a body already wearing out," Whitney said.

About 2.6 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many bear scars. Thousands have post traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury.

"I was diagnosed with PTSD and probably had a brain injury that went undiagnosed," Whitney said.

Others are dealing with lung problems due to the burning of toxic substances.

"We can't heal them. It's a change of life, whether you suffer from PTSD or TBI, it's about being adaptive to the new you," Harrington said.

The trials of modern war, often conducted by National Guardsmen who are in theatre one week and home the next, are complicated.

"Especially for Guard, and reserve, those who are overseas, you're a soldier for a year, and when you come back you're trained to react instinctively, and when you come back, those things are counterculture to the social norms in the civilian world," Whitney said.

Now on the lake, the risks of war feel far away. There's a camaraderie here that's healing. Sailing is all about team building. But for the veterans, the memories of war linger.

"There's never going to be enough therapy," Harrington said. "We're constantly learning."

And that's what this event is all about. Eleven boats, with as many as seven sailors on board, pay to participate in this race with a purpose.  The competition is spirited on a windswept day off Mandeville. The boats jockey for two hours over a seven-mile course. There are buoys to maneuver and lines to constantly adjust, all in an effort to find the right angle to sail the boat most efficiently and get to the finish line first.

The Pontchartrain Yacht Club raised an estimated $2,000 for the Wounded Warriors Project, helping fund an effort that  serves thousands of soldiers who served their country overseas. To help, click here.

Copyright 2015 WVUE. All rights reserved.