Two U.S. military veterans are embarking on their most challenging mission yet -- to swim across the Strait of Gibraltar to raise money and awareness for disabled veterans.
David Broyles, who served three tours of duty -- one in Afghanistan, two in Iraq -- in the Air Force Pararescue, and Rush Vann, who served in the Navy and is now a member of the Texas Army National Guard, will be the 16th and 17th Americans to make the swim.
They see the rough waters as a metaphor for the hardships wounded veterans face every day.
"We just have to make it across," said Broyles, who parachuted into extremely dangerous terrain to rescue wounded soldiers. "But for these people we're swimming for, you know, that struggle could be lifelong."
Vann, Broyles' friend from his days as a student at the University of Texas, quit his job as a civil engineer to train for the swim. He will begin training in October to become an Army Special Forces officer.
So far, the men have raised $30,000 for their cause and hope to get to $100,000 after their swim.
Every day for the last four months, Broyles and Vann have trained by swimming up to 12 miles in Lake Austin near their homes in Texas.
Still, that rigorous training cannot compare to the overpowering currents they will face when they make the 12.5-mile swim from Spain to Africa.
They will battle currents that could pull them out to sea if they do not keep pace.
The winds can turn violent and create large, unruly waves. Broyles and Vann will also have to navigate among fast-moving cargo ships while battling fatigue and the risk of hypothermia in waters that are 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
"Initially it's not that cold, but over a five- to seven-hour swim, it's gonna -- it wears on you," Vann said.
The window for their swim from Spain to Morocco is July 11-21.
They will be accompanied by a whale-watching boat that has guided other swimmers across the strait and a small inflatable craft that will carry their fathers.
Their guide will choose the best day for their swim based on the currents.
Broyles is afraid of what he may face during his swim: sharks.
"Sharks scare me to death," said Broyles, the son of author, screenwriter and Vietnam veteran William J. Broyles. "So, sharks are one of the things we're gonna have to worry about. We're going to be swimming on top, and they are going to be swimming on bottom."
For Their Fellow Veterans
The men say that the pain, fear and frustration they will suffer during their swim pales in comparison to the struggle severely wounded veterans face after they arrive home from war.
It's a struggle Junior Martinez knows too well.
Martinez suffered burns to over 40 percent of his body when he drove over a landmine in Iraq in 2003.
He remembers the day he first saw the scars on his face.
"In my eyes, it was the saddest day of my life because it was not the same Junior I was used to seeing for 19 years of my life," he said. "And when I looked in to that mirror it wasn't the Junior I knew."
As Broyles and Vann prepare to embark on their swim, they are confident they will make it across -- for the sake of men and women like Martinez.
For more information on the swim, visit swimthestrait06.com.
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