Local serviceman competes in boat race across Atlantic Ocean


BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) — A technical sergeant who serves with the 914th Air Reserve Unit in Niagara Falls has assembled a team of comrades who plan to row a small boat across the Atlantic Ocean next month to raise awareness for suicide prevention among military veterans.

Each year, teams of four military veterans compete in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge, a race using only muscle to power a small fiberglass boat from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean to Antigua.

“It’s two-person shifts, so we’ll have teams of two rowing two-hour shifts 24 hours a day,” said Technical Sergeant Chad Miller. “Your off time you’re sleeping. We have a sleeping cabin in the front, sleeping cabin in the rear.”

It’s a 3,000-mile race which can last more than 8 weeks on the water.

“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime, so when this guy asked me if we should do it, I was like, ‘That’s silly, but I don’t have a reason not to do it, so let’s do it,” said Will Jansen, a US Air Force veteran.

Miller has assembled the first all Air Force veteran team, guys he served with in Iraq but who have no rowing experience until a few weeks ago. “Four cops in a boat. Nothin’ could go wrong,” Miller jokes.

But getting out of their comfort zone is the whole idea. They’re rowing for “Fight Oar Die” an organization that brings awareness to veterans’ mental health and suicide prevention, according to team member Tommy Hester.

“You never know what’s gonna happen. Something could break, something could go wrong, somebody could get hurt, but the fear is kind of a driving force to overcome all of that and prove that what we’re doing is very possible, and if we can do this other veterans can do other things just as important and just as extreme,” said Hester. “We know what we’re doing is inherently dangerous and we’ve been called crazy everywhere we go, but that’s why we’re doing this.”

“The whole point of what we do for veteran suicide prevention is to show other veterans you know, life’s not over just because your military service is over,” said team member Nick Rahn.

Although it’s their first attempt, team ‘Row Oar Die’ is hoping to break the race record of 50 days crossing the Atlantic in their fiberglass boat which measures 28 feet in length and five feet in width.

“So we’re rowing across the Atlantic to raise awareness for it so that way we can show veterans to live their lives instead of taking them and if we gotta row 45-65 days to affect one person that’s something we’re willing to do.”

The race begins on December 12 and their progress will be tracked on usvetrow.org

George Richert is an award-winning reporter who first joined the News 4 team in 1998, later returning in 2018. See more of his work here.

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