Surf pounds healing into wounded Marines at Camp Pendleton

Chief Warrant Officer (Ret) Shawn Dunn stood off to the side, in the sand at Camp Pendleton, big arms folded across his barrel chest. He was listening to a briefing being given Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation surf coaches. The mostly South Bay surfers, including Jimmy’s brother Jeff and board members Mark Gerold, Chris Brown, and Andy Dellenbach, make the two hour trek to the Marine base twice a month. They aren’t entirely selfless. Camp Pendleton protects 17 miles of the best surf in California. The volunteers had the waves to themselves before the briefing.

Carly Rogers, JMMF’s program director, reminded the volunteers that many of the Wounded Warrior Battalion West Marines do not have visible injuries, but suffer from TBI (Traumatic Brain Injuries) and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Rogers developed JMMF’s ocean therapy program while earning her masters at USC.

“No sudden movements, no loud noises or surprises,” Rogers cautioned. Then she asked Dunn if he had anything to add.

The surf was two to four feet and closing out. It would be challenging for any beginning surfer, injured or not.

“These are Marines. They knew what they were signing up for when they enlisted,” Dunn said.

Dunn began working with JMMF in 2009 when he was the Wounded Warriors Battalion West chief warrant officer. He was responsible for coordinating the battalion’s NGO programs.

“I know the Jimmy Miller program from the inside, as one of its patients, and it’s one of our better ones,” Dunn said. Other athletic programs at the base include rock climbing, horseback riding and swimming.

“You’re learning to live again through sports. Stop defining yourself by your injury and focus on what you can do. And then mentor others. Those are the turning points,” he said.

After retiring in 2012, Dunn said, he didn’t talk to people for two years.

“In the Marines I was a team leader. Outside the Marines I couldn’t relate to people. Guys here went through hell with their buddies. Then they got taken away from their unit.”

Wounded Warrior Battalion West had over 500 Marines at the peak of the Gulf Wars and still has roughly 250.

“Surfing heals mentally more than other sports,” said Dunn, who lives in nearby San Marcos and surfs several days a week.

“The biggest thing is the ocean. It’s a mental margarita.”

“The biggest problem is between the ear. Guys who can’t sleep at night go in the water, get their butts handed to them and stop thinking about the war. Some have gotten their first good night’s sleep since returning from combat after one of these surf sessions.”

Camaradarie with non-Marines is another important aspect of the program, Dunn said.

“The Marines is the biggest gang in the world. Surfing is a bridge to the rest of the world. I had a kid who left and went back to college to study math. I asked him where he was living. He said on a couch in Redondo Beach. He was staying with his Jimmy Miller coach.”

The Sixth Annual Dig 4 Jimmy Surf N’ Turf is Sunday, May 31 at the Manhattan Beach pier. Entrants are assigned to weighted, four-member surf teams in the morning and volleyball teams in the afternoon. The day benefits the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation and the Dig 4 Kids volleyball and academic program.

To participate in Wounded Warrior surf program or the Dig 4 Jimmy contest visit or (for the contest) ER

Story Courtesy of Easy Reader

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