On Friday, June 15, Seven Hills Skydivers of Madison, WI, (which is located in Marshall) held the 4th Annual Freedom Freefall event in conjunction with its Head to the Hills Boogie. The veterans-help organization 4th HOOAH (Helping Out Our American Heroes)—which aims to reduce the number of veteran suicides a day from the current 20—started the event in 2015 to give those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder a coping mechanism through skydiving. The organization funded tandem skydives, as well as inside and outside video, for 35 veterans this year.
The jumpers took to the sky with tandem instructors Russ Haas, Leon Kunesh, Greg Nore, Andy VanHandel and North Central Regional Director Michael Wadkins out of Chicagoland Skydiving Center’s PAC 750XL, which came in for the boogie with pilot Andrew Goodwin. The video flyers included Peder Blomker, Haas, Shawn Hartlaub, Greg Porter, Dewey Morrison and Brian Torkelson. Samantha Berry, Linda Haas and Saddie Kunesh handled manifest duties while the packers kept things moving, and Tricia VanHandel edited videos. Photographer Paul Manke also documented the event on behalf of Classic Publishing, which is putting together the 2019 American Heroes Calendar, which will benefit non-profit veterans’ organizations and a facility dedicated to community action and poverty alleviation.
This year, Charity Menning, who created Freedom Freefall in 2015 with Will Kocken and Andy VanHandel, made a tandem skydive. Menning lost her fiancé (an Airborne veteran) to a PTSD-related suicide. She initially made a skydive as a memorial to him and fell in love with the sport, even crediting it with saving her life.
Everyone was very pleased with this year’s event, and they are already starting to plan next year’s. The event is continuing to grow, quadrupling in size from its first year. Organizers are shooting for more than 50 participants next year. More information about 4th HOOAH is available at hooahwi.org. The American Heroes Calendar is available at classicpub.org.
Andy VanHandel | D-24545