Updated: Oct 4
Corporal Peter Koffman served in the Marines during the early to mid 90s assigned to the 2d Surveillance Reconnaissance and Intelligence Group.
Our unit deployed in 5 man surveillance teams to implant and monitor tactical remote sensors in order to gather intelligence on enemy movements.
Mark Otto speaking at the rose toss ceremony at SailAhead's Fifth Michael Blanco memorial sail with the Babylon Yacht Club
Coming up through the ranks, Pete and I trained side by side, often cold and wet or burning up in the heat on board Camp Lejeune. We also attended airborne school together at Ft Benning, as well as Special Forces (SERE School) Survival Evasion Resistance Escape at Ft Bragg.
Pete was one of toughest Marines that I had the privilege of serving with and he always had a “can do” attitude.
After deploying to the Gulf War and later, as a team leader conducting counter narcotics operations on the U.S. southern border, Pete was Honorably Discharged from the Marines.
Pete struggled, as many veterans do with the transition to civilian life. Years later he deployed twice to Operation Iraqi Freedom as a civilian contractor.
Sadly, I learned in 2010, that Pete succumbed to the hidden wounds of war and died in 2015. The news hit me hard because we’d lost touch over the years and I felt guilty about not knowing what had happened. I felt compelled to do something to honor my Marine brother.
In 2016, I took up a challenge to ruck 1,000 miles with a weighted pack before the end of that year. I carried a large American flag the entire way and logged my progress daily along with 960 other participants. Something amazing occurred during that long march that I could never had anticipated. There was an overwhelming patriotic response by people when they saw the flag going down the road. The reactions varied from people honking their car horns, cheering, waving and saluting to others who stopped their cars to ask me what I was doing or to share a story of a veteran who impacted their lives.
My goal was to honor Pete by doing this march and to raise awareness of the Post Traumatic Stress related suicide epidemic, while also fundraising in order to provide the means for 1 veteran to go through clinical treatment for PTS.
At the end of the march I took a road trip to Virginia Beach and I met Pete’s sister at his grave site. I presented her with the flag that I carried during my long march and shared all the stories with her.
Around that same time, I began working for the United War Veterans Council where I’m now in charge of running the New York City Veterans Day Parade. I’ve continued to honor Pete by founding a veterans health and wellness program that’s helped to heal many many hundreds of at-risk veterans by way of holistic, therapeutic and social fitness outings.
I’m proud to say that Sail Ahead has been a partner in this program since 2017. This particular sailing outing on the south shore of Long Island was dedicated to a fellow Marine who lost his battle with PTS. Some of us tossed roses overboard into the ocean in memory of friends and loved ones who we’ve lost over the years due to the hidden wounds of war.
I tossed my rose in memory of Pete.
Fair Winds and Following Seas, Warrior.
We Have the Watch.
Mark Otto 🇺🇸🗽⛵️