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Veterans Receive a Needed Lift

Valley News - 1/4/2018

Valley News Staff Writer

Bradford, Vt. — After suffering a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle crash last year, U.S. Marine veteran Laura Cauchon was told she likely wouldn’t be able to ride again. She still plans on going places, however, with a newfound hobby.

Cauchon, 29, has been spending weekend days recently at Operation Veteran Off-Road, a start-up nonprofit based at the home of Air Force vets Jason and Teresa Marsh.

The mission: to provide military veterans and their families with free snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle rides. In the meantime, they’ll be rebuilding and repairing donated sleds stationed in the Marshes’ shop-style garage.

Several of the snowmobiles are of late-1990s vintage — a 1999 Arctic Cat Jaguar 440, a ’97 Polaris XLT — each with repair needs in order to run properly. Cauchon’s machine of choice, an ’87 Yamaha Phazer, needs a rebuilt motor and plenty of body work, probably the most time-intensive of all the sleds.

“It doesn’t matter; I’m a Yamaha person,” said Cauchon, whose loyalties are highlighted with a range of tattoos that includes one of the U.S. Marines Corps symbol. “This one’s gotta be mine.”

Cauchon was working on the carburetors and water pump for the Phazer on Saturday, the second day the Marshes have opened their garage for Operation Veteran Off-Road. Cauchon was the only veteran to take advantage, but Jason Marsh has generated interest from others at White River Junction’s V.A. Medical Center, where he is chief of transportation.

One disabled vet has expressed interest in helping to build an adaptive seat so he can one day ride a snowmobile on his own. Another had expected to come on Saturday before flu symptoms kept him home.

It’s more grave symptoms — those of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — that the Marshes hope to help alleviate through Operation Veteran Off-Road’s opportunities.

“These kinds of projects can really help take your mind off of PTSD symptoms; that’s kind of why we started it,” said Jason Marsh, a retired U.S. Air Force technical sergeant. (Teresa was a master sergeant in the same branch) “It’s an opportunity to socialize, work on projects and hopefully get out there and ride.”

Loosely inspired by Operation Combat Bikesaver, an Indiana-based organization that restores motorcycles and gifts them to vets, Marsh sees the work being performed at Operation Veteran Off-Road as analogous to what some veterans are faced with in their own lives following service.

“We’re rebuilding in here, giving new life to old machines. It’s the same thing veterans have to do sometimes: break themselves down and rebuild back into society,” Marsh said. “What I’d like to see is for veterans to think of this place as a safety net and a comfort zone, a place where they can put their minds at ease and see that there are other people out there like them.”

Marsh — who holds a small-engine repair certificate from Penn Foster College — hopes veterans of all kinds will give Operation Veteran Off-Road a shot, even those who aren’t necessarily inclined toward recreational riding. The heated garage had treats such as coffee and cookies, and vets primarily interested in hanging out with other vets are welcome.

“You might just want to come here to relax and talk, which is perfectly fine; that’s a big part of what we’re here for,” Marsh said. “If you’re like Laura, you want to get a sled fixed up.”

The Marshes have a backyard course set up at their home, a log cabin off of South Road, which includes a jump feature utilized by Jason and his son, Brennen, on their mid-2000s-era Skidoos.

Marsh grew up in Newburgh, N.Y., near the Catskill Mountains, where he developed an appreciation for outdoors activities. He’s been in contact with personnel from the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers about potentially linking a nearby designated snowmobile trail network to his property.

“Getting out on trails and traveling around with a group of people can be really fun, really enjoyable,” Marsh said. “Whether it’s snowmobiles this time of year or ATVs in the summertime, the camaraderie aspect is a big part of what we’re trying to do.”

Operation Veteran Off-Road also received a visit on Saturday from Dave Loiselle and his 6-year-old son, Sam. Dave Loiselle, a VA bus driver, is volunteering with the organization and is glad to see an outlet providing activities that could otherwise be prohibitively expensive for some veterans.

“It gives vets a chance to do something most people spend a lot of money on,” said Loiselle, a retired Vermont National Guardsman. “Anyone who’s always wanted to do something like this, now’s their chance.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.


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