By: Zachary Mettler
The Daily Citizen had the great privilege to interview three former Navy SEALS, two of whom are participating in a 1,000 mile long, 10 day bike ride to raise money for the VIP NeuroRehabilitation Center in San Diego, CA. The SEALS have formed an organization, Beyond the Teams, which seeks to, “fight for those who can’t fight for themselves by bringing awareness and financial resources to any disabled military personnel, veterans, handicapped children, and others.”
For Beyond the Teams’ first project, five former SEALS will bike down the east coast from Virginia Beach, Virginia to Fort Pierce, Florida. The ride will start on October 28 and go through November 9. “All five riders graduated in Class 98 of BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training) 41 years ago.”
The three SEALS The Daily Citizen spoke with include Mike Charbonnet, David Charbonnet and Conrad Kress. Mike Charbonnet served as a member of Underwater Demolition Team 11 where he completed multiple deployments. Kress served 41 years in the U.S. Navy also completing multiple deployments, including a stint as a medical liaison for the White House Medical Unit.
Mike Charbonnet’s son, David Charbonnet, also entered the U.S. Navy serving as a Navy SEAL for a year and a half. David was injured in a parachuting accident in 2011. “He sustained a burst fracture of the L1 leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.” After undergoing rehab at VIP NeuroRehabilitation Center, he was offered the position as the center’s president where he continues in that position as a volunteer to this day.
In the interview, Mike Charbonnet and Kress said they met each other at BUD/S training back in 1978, serving in the same platoon at one point and have since continued to build their friendship which has lasted for over 40 years.
Kress emphasized the importance of the success of their bike ride. Kress said, “VIP lives on grants and donations since it’s a nonprofit. And every year they do something as a fundraiser to help fill the coffers to give scholarships to patients who don’t have access to the funds for the treatment.”
Asked about his motivation for taking on this 1,000-mile challenge, Mike Charbonnet told The Daily Citizen: “For six years, David and his wife Janet have managed the clinic and kept it going. It was going to close otherwise. Seeing all the work they did, and getting to know the patients and therapists there, I just didn’t want to see it go out of business. It was a great help for our son, it’s been a great help for other patients, they’re all great people but there’s not a lot of other places they can go that do what they do at VIP.”
David Charbonnet, the president of VIP told The Daily Citizen about all that the center does. “We are a non-profit physical therapy clinic that specializes in neuro-rehab so specifically things like spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury, and ALS.” He continued, “I didn’t think about what it was like for people who had spinal cord injuries, I didn’t think about what their day to day life was like, until I was in a wheelchair myself.”
In a stirring video promoting the ride, Mike Charbonnet retold the story of how after David broke his back, he took him out to the movies to get away from it all. Mike says, “We were going through the mall, and you can imagine the sea of people, and I was walking behind him as he pushed his wheelchair through the crowd. He stopped and look up and he said, ‘Dad my whole life I’ve tried hard to be sneaky. And now I’m invisible.’ And that just about broke me.”
Driving home the point as to why every American citizen should get involved and support their efforts, Mike Charbonnet said: “Some people that I’ve talked to say ‘why would I get involved? I don’t have a relative that I’m going to send to the clinic,’ and what I’ve told them is, when you’re in the military and you go to work somewhere in the world, one of the things that makes what they do special is that they almost never know who they’re helping. They’re risking their lives for somebody’s benefit and they’re probably never going to meet or know them. These guys put it all on the line, daily, for strangers. So, we’re inviting people to be a part of this. They can be a part of this mission.”
Americans should support the work of these SEALS. They have given much in defense of our country, and even after retiring, continue to give back to help those who have been left behind and forgotten. I hope every reader rallies around their cause and supports their life-transforming work.
To learn more about Beyond the Teams and to support their efforts, click here. To follow their ride on social media, click here, and if you wish to watch the stirring five-minute promotional video for their bike ride, click here.