Veterans get proper sendoff from Vail |

Veterans get proper sendoff from Vail

Dustin Racioppi
Dustin Racioppi |

VAIL, Colorado ” Juan Roldan, once a member of the Army’s infantry and more recently a tenant of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, never saw it coming Saturday night.

The look on his face and the sudden tears that rolled down his cheeks showed it.

He learned Saturday at the Vail fire station, the final night with the Vail Veterans Program, that one of the heavy burdens in his life was lifted ” he will now have a home to return to when he’s discharged from the Washington, D.C., hospital where he’s spent the past two years learning to walk.

The announcement that Roldan will have a home built for him through the national program Homes For Our Troops was just one portion of Saturday night’s sendoff at the firehouse, where the Vail Fire Department cooked for nearly 100 wounded veterans, their families, politicians and other local guests.

“I’m not on ‘Punk’d,’ am I?” Roldan said when he heard the announcement. “I’m so happy. I’m going through a divorce; I don’t know what I’m going to do. My biggest concern was my home. I wanted something for my daughter to come home to.”

The stunning surprise for Roldan capped a weeklong adventure in Vail, where he and 25 other veterans wounded in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars came to learn to ski and reunite with old friends or make new ones.

But, as veteran David Hillary said, the program is more than just learning to ski.

“This is not just a trip to Vail. For the first time since 21 September 2006, I felt completely normal,” he said. “For a moment, my life was just as it was before. My face hurt so much from smiling.”

In a way, the trip to Vail had a bittersweet feeling for Jesse Murphree, of Broomfield. Before joining the Army, he planned on living in Vail to be a snowboard instructor.

He lost his legs in Afghanistan and returned to Vail this week to re-learn all the skills and tricks he once performed so well.

“I wanted to learn to snowboard again; that’s been my goal,” he said. “Going down and cutting an edge ” it was probably one of the best things I’ve done since I’ve been hurt.”

Murphree said with all the attention throughout the week, then the large sendoff Saturday at the firehouse, it just seemed a little weird, though he appreciated every moment of it.

But for the firefighters, Saturday night’s farewell was merely a display of deference for the people who, Chief Mark Miller said, they share a sort of kinship with.

“This is absolutely the highlight of our year,” Miller said.

Fire Technician Al Bosworth got off his two-day shift Saturday morning and hit the kitchen for the rest of the day. Sure, he was tired by dinner time, but for him, it’s well worth it and an opportunity neither he nor the department would pass up. The department has been hosting the dinner since the program’s inception six years ago.

“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s our chance to give back to them and show them that we appreciate what they’ve done.”

Apparently, the governor appreciates what the veterans program’s organizer, Cheryl Jensen, has done.

Hillary announced Saturday night that Jensen is one of three finalists for the state patron of the year award, which will be announced in August. Like Roldan, she was shocked. But she quickly deflected the attention to where she said it belongs ” to the wounded men and women in the crowd.

Those are the people that Miller said deserve all the attention.

“Thank you so much for letting us do this. It blesses us like you can’t imagine,” he said. “You’re our heroes tonight.”

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