Family matters |

Family matters

Getting injured military veterans outfitted with ski gear is part of the Vail Veterans Program's mission. More than 60 people were in town this week. The next group will be here in March.
Zach Mahone|Zach Mahone Photography |

About the Vail Veterans Program

The Vail Veterans Program provides rehabilitative sports programs to United States military personnel who have been severely injured while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and to the troops that support those efforts.

The program is open to wounded warriors and their families, building confidence and hope through skiing, snowboarding and outdoor summer recreational activities.

The Vail Veterans Program is a volunteer organization and hosts veterans and their families free of charge.

Send donations or contact them at: P.O. Box 6473, Vail, Colorado 81658; 970-476-4906; email:

VAIL — Lacoy Robinson’s smile was as bright as the snow she was seeing for the first time. She and husband Jason Robinson are from Florida, and they brought their two adorable children to Vail last week as part of the latest Vail Veterans Program group.

Jason has some experience with snow from when he was in the military, but they didn’t let him play in it. Vail’s snow is infinitely more fun, he said.

Healing helps

Heroes aren’t the only ones who need the healing that the Vail Veterans Program provides.

It’s tough for families to get away. The Robinson’s kids are small, and Lacoy is working and studying nursing at the Everest Institute.

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“Families need to be here, too. It’s important that everyone gets a vacation,” Jason said.

The Laban family has seven little blessings from above. They were here this week, which counts as a minor miracle.

Chris Andrieu is 30 years old. His long dark hair hangs down around his shoulders and he’s dressed in an insulated T-shirt and shorts. You look at him and think, “This kid’s going to freeze. He’s wearing shorts.”

Then you catch yourself, because the legs sticking out of those shorts are made of titanium. He pulled bombs out of the ground with the Nay’s explosive ordnance disposal team. His real legs were blown off when he stepped on the one his crew missed as they cleared an area. He found it the tragic way.

That was Feb. 5, 2013. Some vets call it their Alive Day, the day they were hit and didn’t die. Andrieu said he understands, but doesn’t think losing both legs above the knee is cause to celebrate.

What is cause to celebrate is Autumn, with whom he has Aria, a 5-month old baby girl.

Andrieu was a runner before he was hit, and still is. July 2013, five months after he lost his legs, he ran a 5K. From his physical therapists he got a lot of, “We are not amused.”

Andreieu, however, was amused.

Yeah, the 5K hurt, but he said he figured the more it hurt, the faster he’d get used to doing it all the time.

So, a few months after that 5K, he finished a Tough Mudder. All 12 miles, but he injured his legs and had to spend 14 months in a wheelchair. He was still pretty amused and has the last laugh.

He spent this week snowboarding in Vail.

“Guys don’t think they can do something, then they come here and see others doing things like skiing and snowboarding, and they do it to,” Andrieu said.

Veterans and spouses and kids, oh my!

This week’s group of 60 had 35 kids, along with the vets and their spouses.

There were supposed to be more kids, but the snowstorm that hammered the East Coast kept American Airlines’ charter jet from landing in Washington, D.C.

John Dixon and Robert Nault helped ride herd on American Airlines’ military initiative charter program.

This is the first trip to Vail, and it won’t be their last, Dixon said. They’ll probably be back in March with this winter season’s second group, including those folks from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

“We said we’d bring them to Vail, and we’ll bring them to Vail,” Dixon said.

Airplanes are not free, and the recession forced airlines every other industry to examine every line item. American’s military charter program got a look, but it was mostly a happy look, Dixon said.

“At American Airlines we consider it the right thing to do, to give back,” Dixon said, looking around Blue Moose Pizza at the group. “They gave a lot to us. Some gave everything. This is something that needs to be done.”

It also helps that the people who run American “get it,” Dixon said.

American’s volunteers handle everything, Nault said. The company employs 14,000 people, and many of them ask to be part of the program. They don’t get to come to Vail, but they help with things like getting the veterans and their families’ luggage and gear get to the right place and at the right time.

Airport security can be a special sort of experience when the metal detector goes off and the vets have to explain that it’s a prosthesis or shrapnel. American’s staffers handle all that, too, Dixon said

“It’s the easiest, most fun ride they’ll ever have,” Dixon said.

Trips like the Vail Veterans Program change lives, or at least attitudes about lives.

Their demeanor changes completely between the time the arrive and the time they leave, Dixon said.

“Year over year the change is astounding,” Dixon said. “Many times it’s the people they meet who are going through the same thing. They build a bond that survives. They know and care about each other.”

Two retired Marines volunteered to be at the controls and piloted the American charter to the Eagle County Regional Airport.

“This means the world to us,” said Cheryl Jensen, founder and executive director of the Vail Veterans Program.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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