SEBASTIAN — Freedom.
That’s how veteran Larry Melton described the experience jumping out of an airplane Sunday before releasing his chute and an American Flag strapped to his bag. The jump was part of a four-day event for ‘Jump for Valor,’ a non-profit organization that allows veterans to skydive as an alternative form of therapy.
“It felt great to be able to fly ‘Old Glory’ (a nickname for the American flag),” Melton said. “When you jump out of that plane, you just feel free. It’s like everything else disappears. You’re just focused on that moment.”
Melton, 48, of Sebastian, was part of a group of 100 veterans who jumped out of planes at Skydive Sebastian, 400 Airport Drive West. About half of those veterans are Sebastian residents.
This is the first event Jump for Valor has held in Indian River County. The nonprofit, created last year, has held previous skydiving events for veterans in Phoenix, Arizona and Delaware, Jump for Valor Founder Chris Derbak said.
“Sebastian has been the biggest turnout we have done,” Derbak said. “Skydiving is alternative therapy. Not all guys want to sit on a couch and talk therapy.”
This year’s event in Sebastian had veterans ranging from ages 20 to 65, said Derbak, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force and Coast Guard. The veterans who participated come from all military branches – the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Air Force – and most have served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Derbak said the idea to have veterans skydive came after his will to help a fellow servicemen who was seriously hurt and became a quadriplegic after serving in Syria. Funds are also raised during the events and go toward the families of injured veterans.
“This activity gives us an outlet to be with people we relate to,” Derbak said. “In the military, you’re a family, you’re a unit. In the skydiving community, it’s the same; it builds camaraderie.”
Melton, a licensed pro-rated skydiver, said he saw a lot of veterans at the event who had severe injuries from their previous service in wars. Melton said he saw a triple-amputee and a few more men in wheelchairs.
The skies were sunny and the weather was just a little chilly on Sunday, making for the perfect skydiving conditions, Melton said. Melton served in the U.S. Air Force, following in the footsteps of his father Gary.
One of Melton’s daughter’s, 26-year-old Kayla Turnage, is also currently serving in the Air Force out of Columbia, South Carolina. Another veteran who is also a licensed skydiver, Kevin Petit, said the skydiving events help veterans rebuild their identity.
“Our whole identity is wrapped up in service,” said 53-year-old Petit, of Washington D.C., who served in the Army for 24 years. “Skydiving is a great place to get a nice community. It’s definitely a group of thrill-seekers, people who understand risks and support each other. It’s a nice soft landing into a social group I didn’t have after leaving the military.”
The Jump for Valor skydiving was one of several events held over the weekend to pay tribute to servicemen ahead of Veterans Day, which is Monday. Those who want to help veteran organizations can donate through the ALMA website.
Photos provided by Jump for Valor