Vail Veterans Program hosts seven wounded Israeli soldiers
Soldiers represent first international group that nonprofit has hosted in its 15-year history
VAIL — Few people know the sound of a bomb blowing off a limb and the screams that follow.
A few of those know the sound of healing and the laughter that follows.
Members of the Vail Veterans Program do. And now so do seven Israeli soldiers injured in combat. Those Magnificent Seven are in Vail this week as the Vail Veterans Program’s first international group.
Col. Greg Gadson is a double amputee injured in the Middle East. He knows how both horror and healing sound and feel. He’s a Vail Veterans Program alumnus and has been to Vail several times.
“I’m an old soldier. That’s the bond and that’s what brings us here. It extends beyond where you served. We’ve all made tremendous sacrifices for the love of our country,” Gadson said.
Maayan Gottesman is the Israeli soldiers’ guardian angel this week, keeping track of her guys. That makes Gottesman and Vail Veterans Program co-founder Cheryl Jensen the queens of this world.
The Israelis were in Vail a year or so ago for some medical consulting with the Steadman Philippon Research Institute. Jensen wandered over to give a presentation about the Vail Veterans Program.
“Our jaws dropped when we realized we had such similar missions and values,” Gottesman said. “Brotherhood directs us.”
Wounded soldiers run the Israeli organization. “It creates a sense of brotherhood,” Gottesman said.
Gottesman served in the Israeli army, so she “gets it,” she said. She wasn’t wounded in combat, so that part she doesn’t.
The Magnificent Seven hit the slopes Tuesday morning. They hit the Steadman Clinic Monday morning, where they learned they had more treatment options than they realized. One soldier left with a new and better brace, others were examined for brain injuries, still others for other injuries.
“It was a good day,” Gottesman said.
Each day of the week keeps getting better. They snowmobiled Wednesday and are back on Vail Mountain the rest of the week. They leave Saturday.
Ohad Abraham and Shani Kotev were being outfitted with snowboards Tuesday morning as they grinned out the window at Golden Peak. The last time they were on snow was Mount Hermon in Israel, one of the only places in the country that gets snow. The lifts are only open a few weeks, and they joked that it feels like weeks when you’re waiting in line.
Col. Dave Rozelle cofounded the Vail Veterans Program with Jensen.
Timing is everything. Rozelle was in town for a Vail Veterans Program board meeting this week.
Rozelle is an armored guy to his very marrow — tanks and other huge machines — and has both studied and taught younger officers about Israel’s victory in the Battle of Golan Heights, one of history’s greatest tank battles.
“We have a rich relationship with our brothers in the Israeli army,” Rozelle said.
Their trip to Vail, though, is about peace and healing, not war.
“Hopefully they’ll experience the same healing everyone enjoys,” Rozelle said.
Here’s some serendipity for you. Jacob Wilhelm works with Vail Resorts and checked the Israeli soldiers into the ski school Tuesday morning at Golden Peak. He’s originally from Cincinnati where he teaches skydiving. Among his students are many wounded combat veterans. A few of this week’s group might join him in the Queen City.
“They’re doing something they never thought they’d do,” Wilhelm said.