Maybe you’ve seen him running on the North Fork with an American flag in his hands. Maybe you went to Greenport High School with him or heard about one of his three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Or maybe, while you were sitting inside your Greenport home during Saturday’s blizzard, you noticed Old Glory waving somewhere in the snowy distance, carried by Steven Webb.
No matter how you heard his story, Cpl. Webb, a Greenport native who was honorably discharged from the Marines in 2011, doesn’t carry the American flag with him while he runs along the roads of the North Fork to bring attention to himself.
He carries it to raise awareness about a specific group of veterans who are unable to hold the flag — the men and women who killed themselves after experiencing the horrors of war.
“You know, recognizing troops overseas,” Mr. Webb said when asked why he was carrying the flag around during the middle of what was technically considered a blizzard Saturday. “And, I don’t know how to say this, but veteran suicide is a big problem right now … Airborne Tri-Team is trying to put an end to that. That’s one reason.”
Mr. Webb’s “whole family had been in the military,” he recalled, spawning an interest in joining the armed forces upon his graduation from Greenport High School in 2007.
His grandfather, who died before he was born, received a Purple Heart for his service in World War II. His great-grandfather served in World War I. His father served in Vietnam. His older cousin, with whom he grew up, also served.
After returning from his last deployment, however, the camaraderie Mr. Webb had grown to love in the Marines wasn’t waiting for him when he got home. He managed to find it again with Airborne Tri-Team.
Ron Hurtado founded the organization last year, officially gaining nonprofit status last fall.
According to its website, “The vision of Airborne Tri-Team is to provide extraordinary but accomplishable physical goals to rebuild and maximize self-esteem and to promote a better quality of life — to promote awareness of veterans with invisible wounds who are all around us.”
Staff Sgt. Hurtado, who served in the Army from 2007 through 2015, had trouble sleeping after returning from one of his three deployments. He was reluctantly placed on medication — “I didn’t want to get kicked out of the military,” he said — and had an incident during which he apparently tried to kill himself.
“Apparently” because he doesn’t remember it.
“They tried to put me on more meds and I said, ‘No way,’ ” Mr. Hurtado recalled this week. Instead, he got himself into shape mentally and physically by running 5Ks, 10Ks and triathlons.
Later, Mr. Hurtado noticed a friend falling into a similar pattern he had succumbed to. The two teamed up and “everything came together.” Airborne Tri-Team was born.
After meeting Mr. Webb last year, Mr. Hurtado invited him to become one of the 12 members of Airborne Tri-Team.
“He’s very motivated,” Mr. Hurtado said of the Greenport resident. “He believes in it as much as we do.”
One of the nonprofit’s major missions is to reduce the number of veterans who kill themselves.
A 2012 Suicide Data Report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs noted that “an estimated 22 veterans will have died from suicide each day in the calendar year 2010.” The 56-page report notes the actual number itself “may be subject to reporting error.” In fact, only 21 states were studied. However, the number 22 has since become a rallying call for those lobbying on behalf of veterans, including Mr. Webb and Airborne Tri-Team.
As the report ultimately concludes, even one veteran killing themselves every day is too much: “As long as veterans die by suicide, we must continue to improve and provide even better services and care.”
“We just need more organizations to start up. We need more help,” Mr. Webb said. “And the VA needs to step it up a little bit more, I guess.”
In the meantime, Mr. Webb will be running with his flag — snow or shine.
Photo Caption: Steven Webb walks down Main Street in Greenport during last weekend’s blizzard. (Credit: Cerria Torres)