We believe in the healing power of the sea, and this past Sunday, we had the privilege of coming together once again with the Babylon Yacht Club for a remarkable event. This collaboration, which has now seen its fifth iteration, holds a special place in our hearts as it is dedicated to the memory of USMC LCpl Michael Blanco.
A Tribute to LCpl Michael Blanco
have died by suicide. Michael was from Commack, and finished high school early to join the Marine Corps.
Michael was born May 7, 1991. He ended his life on Monday, February 15, 2010 at almost 19 years of age. Michael was the proverbial sheepdog always protecting the sheep from the wolves. LCpl Michael Blanco's story is a poignant reminder of the challenges many veterans face, particularly when battling mental health issues. Michael tragically lost his life to suicide just before his 19th birthday. In his memory, SailAhead and the Babylon Yacht Club join forces to create a day of sailing and remembrance that brings hope, healing, and unity to the forefront.
Sailing for a Cause
Eight sailboats, manned by dedicated crews of Babylon Yacht Club members, took to the waters to honor Michael's memory and the countless veterans who have faced similar struggles. This event is not only a tribute but also a testament to the power of community and the therapeutic benefits of sailing.
The United States has a veteran suicide epidemic which claims the lives of over 22 veterans each day. Suicide is preventable. By fostering community SailAhead aims to reduce this tragic reality. As Bruce Blanco has shared, helping veterans is important to him in honoring his son.
"this is the beginning for us, because if we can help anyone - if we can help one veteran its an accomplishment... Thats what we do, we try to help veterans in every way we can."
Bruce also encourages participants to make notice when those around them are unwell, and to make efforts to connect them with people or organizations capable of providing the according support.
Bruce is the president of the American Legion Post 1244 riders, and is very involved in rides that end in a cemetery. Some of the Legion Riders have praised SailAhead's preventative work to save veteran's lives.
Skippers and sailors have to prepare for the sail. Two boats could not make it this year due to engine problems. Of the remaining eight sailboats, most have been participating in this event since year one. Not all of the boats are kept at the yacht club, skippers had to make deliveries from around the Great South Bay to join us.
Sailing at the Babylon Yacht Club
There is no SailAhead, without a sail! This year's event was a resounding success, with 30 veterans and their guests joining us for a day of sailing, reflection, and camaraderie. It's moments like these that remind us of the importance of reaching out, connecting, and showing our veterans that they are never alone on their journey toward healing.
The above photos were taken by our "boat jumpers" who jump on each participating sailboat to take pictures of sailors and veterans so that this special day can live on. It is also an opportunity to introduce everyone to Our Mates, who are featured in each photo. The 219 burgees that can be found on any SailAhead boats represent Our Mates, and are a reminder of the hard work we still have ahead of us.
Andrew is a veteran who was introduced to SailAhead earlier this year. He has come to most of this year's events, and has spoken about how SailAhead has had a positive impact on his life. Andrew is currently in the Samaritan Daytop Village Program for the treatment of chemical dependencies and post-traumatic stress disorder. Our friends at the United War Veteran's Council help coordinate the operations between SailAhead and the Samaritan Daytop Village. This year we have taken 50 veterans sailing together.
The American Legion Riders and the UWVC
You may have noticed a theme that runs throughout this article. COMMUNITY! We are one piece of a larger puzzle that works together for the benefit of our veterans. Our community of friends and allies are what make us strong, and ultimately its through community and togetherness that lives are saved.
The American Legion Riders are a prolific and dedicated organization. The unfortunate reality is that the riders are often charged with escorting veterans on trips that end at cemeteries. Teaming up with us means that the Riders can engage in work that contributes in suicide prevention. This is "the other side" of what they usually do.
The United War Veteran's Council has been instrumental in bringing veterans to the water. The UWVC organizes the Veteran's Day Parade in NYC every year, which is the largest veteran's parade in the country. Mark Otto is the UWVC's Executive Director, and founded the UWVC's Health and Wellness Program, of which SailAhead is a part of that program.
We thank the United War Veteran's Council for all of the good work that they do, and for continuing to be our staunch allies against veteran's suicide.
THANK YOU BABYLON YACHT CLUB FOR ALL OF YOUR HELP, YEAR AFTER YEAR!
Together we are saving lives...