Story by James Fawbush
Photos by Salute Media
Working in the veteran community you learn how hard it is to connect with post-9/11 vets.
I enlisted in 1996 and retired in 2016. I was raised in the Army by the last of the Vietnam vets still in service and soldiers that fought in Grenada, Panama, Somalia and Operation Desert Storm. These leaders cared for my welfare and helped me become a soldier and, ultimately, a leader.
Despite all the training, no one teaches you how to stay connected with the support group you develop over the years once you take your boots off for the final time.
Enter Jason Watzlawick. Jason is a large man. He is easily 6-foot-7 and 270 lbs with a deep bellowing voice and an equally large gait. He has a limp due to leg and back injuries from serving in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Guam in the United States Air Force.
We were scheduled to enjoy a Cubs game with his wife, who is also his caregiver with tickets provided by Veteran Tickets Foundation, or Vet Tix as most call it. As a former Chicagoan and Cubs fanatic, Jason was looking forward to the game.
He also wanted to learn about the resources available to him and his family at Ability360, so I coordinated a tour of the facility with Sarah Olson, the program coordinator and veteran liaison.
Jason toured the facility with Sarah, then we spoke about the benefits Ability360 offers, especially the adaptive scuba program Ability360 hosts regularly during the summer.
Hearing Jason say, “I would like to try adaptive scuba this summer,” was music to my ears. I knew I had another future scuba diver and dive buddy in the making.
I learned there are 533 active military/veteran memberships and 277 family memberships at the Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center.
At the Chicago Cubs spring training game, Jason really came alive. His face lit up as he recalled famous Cubs players and spoke of games heattended while living in Chicago.
Jason explained that being retired and living on a fixed income doesn’t leave much for amenities like this event. If it weren’t for foundations like Vet Tix working with generous Veterans organizations like the Chicago Cubs, he might never be able to attend.
I asked Jason what he liked best about the Vet Tix program. His reply was simple: “I get to sit in a section surrounded by other veterans just like me.”
Those words, “veterans just like me,” resonated profoundly. You want to connect and be close to those whom you identify with. This is especially important when talking about combat veterans and how they negotiate public events.
Veterans, especially combat vets, might have a difficult time letting their guard down in a setting like this and I think Vet Tix knocked it out of the park (no pun intended) by grouping vets together and offering tickets through their partners to sporting events, ballets, theatres, concert venues, family programs and more.
Organizations like Ability360 and Vet Tix have a direct and positive influence in our communities. Allowing today’s service members, veterans and their families the opportunity to engage in events and live a healthy lifestyle is truly important to happiness. To measure the success of these programs, look at the smiles on the faces of the veterans that utilize them. Veterans like Jason.
James Fawbush is a 3rd generation Arizona native. He is a retired from the Army after 20 years of service after in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba and Hurricane Katrina. James is married with 7 children, two dogs and is active in the veteran community.