The soldier wants to be a sailor

On a recent evening I left work an hour early to drive to a federal medical facility, where I passed through a security clearance that included a vehicle search, purse inspection and my walking through a metal detector. Afterward, I wound my car past unmarked facades, trying to find a particular building. Fortunately, I had a living “GPS” to consult–a phone connection to the soldier I was going to meet for the first time.

Will is a veteran in his early 20’s. He served in Iraq–where he was exposed to depleted uranium spread by American munitions–and came back with leukemia. Will is battling his second bout of leukemia, with treatments that knock him flat for a week, and give him only a three- or four day window of health before the next treatment.

Though I had only about an hour with Will, it was easy to recognize his courage and heart. His attitude about the treatments is matter-of-fact, and Will lit up while talking about his career goal, which is to obtain his captain’s license and pilot tug boats in New York City.

When asked recently what he dreams about doing, Will said he wanted to learn to sail, and that is how I came to be there with him that evening. I have the honor and pleasure of being Will’s “sailing angel.” That is, I get to facilitate making his dream come true.

When I first heard of this opportunity, via a Facebook connection, my knee-jerk reaction was to say, “Sure, I can take him out for a day and teach him how to sail.” I figured I could work out a way to borrow a boat from Woodbridge Sailing School, which is supportive of the local community.

However, that idea soon changed to offering Will every possible sailing opportunity, and from there, the vision grew. As I began to tap my network, I found many people willing and able to help prepare a sailing smorgasbord for this soldier with a dream. Will now has a list of options, including local lessons in a small boat, a day sail- and an overnight cruise with buddies from the VA hospital, racing, a cruise to the Caribbean on a millionaire’s yacht, and sailing a tall ship or two. With what everyone hopes is his last chemo treatment behind him, Will is starting to feel better. Soon we will be planning his first sailing excursion, which I hope will be one of many great sailing experiences for this deserving young man.

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