Army West Point Track and Field provides outreach to VA Hospital

By Class of 2019 Cadet Cassie Mundekis and 2nd Lt. Francesca Gay

April 4th, 2019 | News, News and Features
 Two cadets from the Army West Point Track and Field team meet with a veteran during a visit to the Long Beach VA Medical Center during spring break. Photo by 2nd Lt. Francesca Gay

Each year, as spring break rolls around, the Army West Point Track and Field team packs its bags and travels to warmer weather for its annual training trip. This year in Irvine, California, the cadets took a break from their afternoon practices to visit the Long Beach VA Medical Center.
During their guided tour of the on-ground facilities, cadets were given the opportunity to reach out to passing veterans and spend time communicating with past and present brothers and sisters in arms.
The opportunity to connect with the veterans gave cadets an appreciation of those who served before them. This experience brought joy to the eyes of the veterans who were given the chance to talk to and see the youth that will be joining the profession of arms as future Army lieutenants.
Class of 2020 Cadet Benjamin Petrella shared his experience interacting with two veterans, Marty and Donald. Naval veteran Marty was confined to a wheelchair due to blindness while Donald, who served in Vietnam, needed a walker due to a bone infection. Donald would push Marty around in his wheelchair to reach his 10,000 steps every day to maintain strength and Marty’s wheelchair would act as a walker for him to maintain balance.
Petrella recalled, “It was really cool to see how the two men worked together to make up for each other’s disabilities. They have somewhat of a shared background, they get along well, and they know they’re not a burden to one another. I wish all veterans had that kind of friendship.”
Many of the cadets found the outreach a rewarding experience and enjoyed the time connecting with the veterans.
“It was important we had this opportunity,” freshman thrower Jamir Gibson said, “because someday that might be us. These people deserve to be respected for their sacrifices and it was rewarding to see how it boosted their morale.”
Handing out T-shirts and enthusiastically greeting the passing veterans had an evident effect on the VA residents. When addressing the difference that outreach programs make, Director of Public and Community Affairs Richard Beam listed off the important benefits this type of event has on the veterans’ community.
“It has a huge effect, I always say that the VA is not the only solution for veterans because we are only part of the continuum of care that should be there for our veterans,” Beam said. “We can fix a broken arm, but if we have to fix someone’s smile or if we haven’t made someone feel good about who they are or what they have done, that is where you guys come in. I don’t want to look at it like it is a medicine in its traditional sense. But neither can I dismiss what it does for the souls of the people who got to see you guys.”
At the end of the outreach event, the track team toured the Fisher house, a housing facility dedicated to assisting the family members of long-term resident veterans. The interactions with veterans reminded the whole team that beyond the current mindset of training and competition lies a future of giving and sacrifice as members of the Army Officer Corps.
Linda Ferrara joined the team for the visit and spoke to our group at the conclusion of the event. Three of her sons graduated from West Point and they were all on the Army Track and Field Team. Her son, 1st Lt.  Matthew Ferrara (USMA Class of 2005, Silver Star Recipient, and posthumously promoted to captain), was killed in action serving our country when he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007. Our OIC, Todd Crowder, had the opportunity to interact and mentor Marcus Ferrara (USMA Class of 1997) during Beast when Marcus was CIC of the fast run group. Additionally, Crowder coached Matt during his last two years at West Point, and his brother Andy (USMA Class of 2010) during his years at West Point.
“Matt always stepped up and gave his all while always keeping life in perspective, and that the Ferrara family has always been a tremendous example of family values and pursuing excellence to the highest levels,” Crowder said.
Mrs. Ferrara explained the importance of our service; her words of encouragement inspired our team and were a somber reminder of the significance of our profession.