When John Keating III was overseas in Afghanistan in 2011 for a deployment as a member of the U.S. Army, he had lots of time to think when he wasn’t in battle. When he was asked what he missed most while being deployed, one of the first things he mentioned was the Figawi boat race between Hyannis and Nantucket.
Keating III’s father, Jack, said that they have participated in the Figawi race regularly ever since his son returned in 2013. This year they sailed on the Valkyrie alongside the Defender to represent and support the fight against veteran suicide. It is a matter that hits close to home for all involved in the Keating family. Since they began racing again regularly, they have lost two of their sailors to suicide. Both men were military veterans.
“They were buddies of my sons who sailed the boat with us,” Keating said. “Even though they were very well connected, they still found a way to take that awful step. One was a total shocker. Another was tragic in a sense that he just wasn’t getting the medical care he needed. He was medically discharged (from the military).”
The Keatings learned about Jim Lorraine and his veteran non-profit called the America’s Warrior Partnership, which helps veterans live the lives they want to live and improve their overall quality of life. This year, they raced together with some competitive banter about who was faster – but in the end the objective was the same: support the veterans.
“When we started to hear about Jim and his cause, it was more and more of a need and a desire to help these kids who have done so much for the country,” Keating said. “They are just great guys. We are doing this for the boys.”
Lorraine is a military veteran and President of the AWP. He served for 22 years in the U.S. Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel, fulfilling various senior leadership roles. He was a flight nurse with nine combat deployments and retired as the Deputy Command Surgeon for the United States Special Operations Command. Lorraine also served as the founding director of the United States Special Operations Command Care Coalition and as Special Assistant for Warrior and Family Support to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
While Keating did not serve, military service runs deep in the family. His father served in World War 2 and on D-Day (Battle of Normandy). That is where his son’s passion for serving came from.
“Being able to help veterans isn’t about creating the best app. It isn’t about creating the best website or having the best technology to assist them,” Lorraine said. “It is about the relationship.”
“One of the things Jim’s group has uncovered is that in order to really help these guys out, you need to get them to connect on a more consistent basis,” Keating said.
Lorraine said his group believes the suicide rate is about 25 veterans per day and after including veterans who pass away from an overdose that is deemed accidental, the number climbs to 44 per day.
“The issue in Massachusetts for veterans isn’t firearms – it is overdoses,” Lorraine said. “Then number two is strangulation and number three is firearms. So, when the federal government says our suicide strategy is to limit veteran’s access to firearms, it won’t even make a dent in Massachusetts. It is the overdoses. But everyone is focused on the how someone took their lives and not who is taking their lives, and that is what we are trying to do is to get to the 'who' to better understand their situation.”
You can donate to this cause by clicking here. The two sailboats will continue to participate in the Figawi race for years to come with Keating adding that the companionship and teamwork that takes place in the five-hour trip between Hyannis and Nantucket is good for veterans who have not had many chances to work together as a unit or a team since returning from their deployment.
“I hope 10 years down the road, we can have over 100 veterans sailing in honor of those who have taken their lives through suicide,” Lorraine said.