A military veteran dies by suicide close to 17 times a day, according to a report published by the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs in September.
That’s 17 times too many for three Pasadena Police officers, themselves military veterans, and dozens more who jumped out of a plane at 13,000 feet over Oceanside Municipal Airport on Saturday, November 2nd to help bring awareness to the startling statistic.
“You lose one person due to suicide, that’s a lot,” said Pasadena Police Corporal Joaquin Gurrola, a retired Marine who did two combat tours in Iraq. “Not only do we want to raise awareness, but we want to have the conversation to help identify the issues. We just want to be part of a good program to raise awareness and prevent future suicides from happening.”
Gurrola along with Officer’s Stephanie Lack and Ed Dumaguindin skydived as part of Operation Jump 22, an event designed to bring attention to the issue of veterans’ suicide while being transformative on a personal level.
“You’re literally falling out of the sky for a good 45 seconds,” said Gurrola, minutes after falling from the sky. “It’s intense, indescribable. Once you pull the cord and the parachute pops open, you’re floating in the sky. It’s very peaceful. It was a beautiful view. I could see Camp Pendleton, my old base.”
Prior to the jump, Gurrola, Lack and Dumaguindin collectively raised more than $2,000 for Merging Vets and Players, a nonprofit which joins together former professional athletes and combat veterans, realizing that both groups sometimes struggle to find purpose after their respective careers end.
“I’ve had some military friends commit suicide and attempt to commit suicide so I want to be part of this,” said Dumaguindin, who served in the Army, out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina from 2004 to 2011, doing did two tours in Afghanistan, for a year and 15 months respectively.
Lack also served in the Army out of Fort Bragg, from 2011 to 2015 and then served in the National Guard.
Dumaguindin and Lack had difficulty coming up with words to describe the sensation of skydiving but said they would do it again without hesitation.
“It was awesome,” Lack said. “It was amazing. I don’t know how to explain it.”
Once the skydivers jumped out of the plane, the 13,000 foot descent to earth took several minutes.
Eighty jumpers participated in Operation Jump, 30 more than last year’s inaugural event, said J.P. Pena, one of the founders of Merging Vets and a Marine veteran, who served with Gurrola in Iraq.
In 2003, Gurrola saved Pena’s life when a seven-ton truck Pena was in, flipped off a bridge during a nighttime patrol and fell 35 feet into the water.
“So I always appreciate him,” Pena said.
Several of Gurrola’s family members were also on hand to watch the jump.
“I’m proud of him,” said Gurrola’s wife Natalie. “He has a lot of stories of being a hero in the Marine Corps and also as a police officer. It comes naturally to him. I’m very proud that he is able to do these things to bring awareness. I feel like he’s fearless.”
Three members of the Burbank Police Department also participated in the event.
So did former San Diego Chargers center Nick Hardwick and six-time UFC champion and Army veteran Randy Couture.
“Vets and players both have respect for each other,” said Couture in an on-camera interview with FOX 5 San Diego. “Changing that narrative, getting them to a place that they feel safe and comfortable again, getting them working out again … All of those things have been very, very powerful at the grassroots level, at saving some of these guys’ lives.”