USCG, SEALs: Making a difference for ailing military children

Participants in the 2015 SEALs for Sunshine event pose with campers and their family members at Camp Sunshine on July 30, 2015. Camp Sunshine is a retreat dediated to assisting military families and children with life-threatening illnesses. Photo courtesy of Camp Sunshine.

Participants in the 2015 SEALs for Sunshine event pose with campers and their family members at Camp Sunshine on July 30, 2015. Camp Sunshine is a retreat dedicated to assisting military families and children with life-threatening illnesses. Photo courtesy of Camp Sunshine.

A doctor walks into your hospital room. After what seems like a lifetime of tests and doctors visits, the news isn’t promising. Your child has been diagnosed with cancer. Your world has just been changed. Is there treatment? Will my insurance cover the astronomical healthcare costs? How can I help my child?

These are the questions that many families across America face on a daily basis. Many of these families include military families deployed across the United States and the world.

Camp Sunshine, located in Casco, Maine, was created as a retreat for these families. The children and their families are able to attend this unique and special summer camp for one week at no costs. Activities are like any other summer camp you might think of but include therapies, blood testing and activities catered to specific health needs so families don’t have to worry about the continued care of their child.

SEALs for Sunshine was started in 2013 as an event to raise money specifically for military families affected by a child with a life-threatening illness. The added strain of being deployed or living far from other family members makes getting to Camp Sunshine all the more difficult. The money raised during the SEALs for Sunshine event is used to assist military families to travel to and attend Camp Sunshine.

The team during their run down Mt. Washington. Photo courtesy of Camp Sunshine.

The team during their run down Mt. Washington. Photo courtesy of Camp Sunshine.

This year, one Coast Guard officer was afforded the opportunity join three U.S. Navy SEALs and a U.S. Navy officer in a 7.6-mile run, 85-mile bike ride and 4-mile swim to raise money for Camp Sunshine, enabling these ill children and their families to attend the camp from all over the world.

After the Coast Guard’s involvement in last year’s event, a previous participant solicited for a member of the Coast Guard to join them again this year. After a solicitation was sent out throughout the region, Lt. Eric Libner, currently assigned to Civil Engineering Unit Providence, Rhode Island, was the first to respond to Camp Sunshine.

“I read about last year’s event, Camp Sunshine, and read a news article about former [U.S. Navy] SEAL, Justin Legg,” Libner said. “After reading these inspirational stories, I immediately called Camp Sunshine and told them that I really wanted to do this. The event also coincided with my training for my first full Ironman at the end of August.”

Libner got the opportunity he hoped for, and began making preparations to join the U.S. Navy SEALS in supporting Camp Sunshine. On July 30, 2015, Libner and the others began the day at 5:00 a.m. with a ride up the Mt. Washington autoroad.

“The top was in the 50’s with a strong wind and completely engulfed in a cloud,” said Libner.

But that weather didn’t deter the team. After the playing of the National Anthem, the group departed on the 7.6-mile, knee-pounding decent of the autoroad. After the run, the team geared up for the 85-mile bike ride, which took them from the base of Mt. Washington to Lake Sebago.

Along the way, the team was greeted by many spectators and veterans cheering them on. The bike ride included an escort from the New Hampshire and Maine State Patrolmen, a Casco Ambulance and bike support from a local bike shop.

After a quick change, the 4-mile swim started at Camp Mataponi, where three campers sang the National Anthem, and the team began the swim, escorted by a group of kayakers, the Maine Game Wardens and a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter.

At the finish stood 2,000 spectators, including women from the Freeport Flag Ladies who have been standing with flags every Tuesday since 9/11 no matter the weather and the families from Camp Sunshine.

For the team, it wasn’t all a grueling workout. They were afforded the opportunity to meet some of the current campers and their families, an experience which Libner treasures.

The team at the completion of the 4-mile swim, the last event of the day. Photo courtesy of Camp Sunshine. Photo courtesy of Camp Sunshine.

The team at the completion of the 4-mile swim, the last event of the day. Photo courtesy of Camp Sunshine. Photo courtesy of Camp Sunshine.

“The funniest part of the event was walking into the 5 to 9-year-old play room to see the looks of disappointment when they realized that Navy SEALs were in fact people and not sea mammals,” he said. “I couldn’t stop laughing.”

As the day came to a close, Libner was able to reflect on his participation, knowing he had made a difference for a military child and family in need while working alongside a group of men he calls heroes.

“For me, the entire event was incredibly inspirational,” said Libner. “The children and families of Camp Sunshine are incredibly brave and strong people. These children are in a daily fight for their lives and being a part of this event was in incredibly easy decision. It was an honor to be a part of this event. To be able to spend the day training with a group of my heroes so that we can raise money for our military families made this an easy choice. I look forward to being a part of another crazy adventure for next year.”

Note: This Blog Post is presented for the general interest of all hands. The Coast Guard cannot and does not officially endorse non-federal entities or their fundraising activities and the Coast Guard does not urge anyone to donate to any non-federal entity. The information is presented solely for the general awareness and interest of Coast Guard members.

Tags: , , , ,