TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Jake Ferguson, who served as a specialist with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division from 1992 to 1996, survived the worst peacetime loss of life in the Division since World War II: the Green Ramp Disaster at Pope Air Force Base.
On March 23, 1994, an F-16 was given clearance to approach with flame-out procedures, while troops on the ground prepared to load a C-141. A C-130 was also on the approach, at an altitude of about 300 feet. The F-16 and C-130 collided, with the F-16 pilot attempting a full afterburner to recover the aircraft, however, it began to disintegrate. The F-16 pilots ejected, while their craft plunged on toward Green Ramp. The C-130 was able to land, while the F-16 arced and hit the ground. Momentum carried the wreckage through a parked C-141. It punctured the fuel tanks in the C-141, and a huge fireball melded the F-16 wreckage, fuel and ammunition exploding, with the C-141, hurtling into a mass of Army paratroopers waiting to load.
“Twenty-four of my friends died,” said Ferguson. “My friend Jonesy was just a matter of debris. It was a miracle if you survived.” More than 80 died that day.
Ferguson can relate to and understand stress, and the difficult transition process of trying to adjust back to civilian life after serving tours of duty. He is now helping his fellow brothers and sisters, sharing what he’s learned.
“Keep busy, that’s what I do,” he said. “I take what I learned from the service, and turn it into daily life: adapt and overcome.”
Ferguson has tried his hand at snowboarding, biking and hiking, and enjoys it all, but has found true peace in fishing.
During the annual Wounded Warrior Ability Camp at Disabled Sports USA Far West at Alpine Meadows in March, Ferguson arranged a fishing charter for veterans who might not want to ski or snowboard.
Hooked Up Charters and Chuck’s Charters were enlisted to take the Wounded Warriors fishing on Lake Tahoe. The night previous, winds picked up and scoured the lake, foreshadowing cancellation. A strange weather anomaly occurred, and the winds laid down, astounding both the captains and Ferguson, in time for the crew’s 0600 departure.
“The soldiers already showed a strong camaraderie, as they arrived to the Sierra Boat Marina, already joking with each other,” said Ferguson. “All I saw were smiling faces. These veterans were very humble and grateful to be back home and doing normal activities again that are not combat orientated.”
Captain Chuck had a rousing morning, landing fish early with multiple hook ups.
The two boats had a head-to-head competition, turning the day into a mini derby, to see who would catch the biggest fish.
Within a few hours of fishing, the two boats had caught their limits, with Sabrina French landing a 7-pound Mackinaw lake trout on Chuck’s boat.
“This was a huge relief for these veterans, as combat stress can be overwhelming, to say the least,” said Ferguson.
saving lives with pride
Six wounded veterans were in the group, a few with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Ryan Jones, who had recently been shot twice to the chest and had surgery to have a chunk of metal removed said, “The Wounded Warrior project gave me a sense of pride again.”
According to Ferguson, a whole new wave of veterans is coming back “messed up.”
“We’re going to see these guys pushing shopping carts,” he said. “We lose 18-20 vets a day to suicide. There is a vet somewhere right now in the corner of a room — who’s going to pull the trigger.”
According to an article in the Veterans Today Military & Foreign Affairs Journal, the shocking news is this: Veteran suicides outpace war deaths.
Ferguson aims to get veterans outside and let them know they are not forgotten. He would like to develop more programs locally in the Tahoe Truckee outdoor world, whether it’s river rafting, paddle-boarding, kayaking, or horseback riding.
“We are so free to do it (activities) ourselves,” he said. “Somebody right now is overseas holding a gun, so we are free to prance about Tahoe. We should say thank you.”
Ferguson sees the American flags at homes flying for Memorial Day, the Fourth of July. He intends to make sure the soldiers who fought for that flag are not forgotten.
“We can do more,” he said. “We can save a life.”
As participant Ramon Branchcomb said, “I was only thinking about the fishing and did not think about anything else but catching fish.”
He wants to return with his two daughters and take them fishing, too, because it was so fun.
Ferguson wants to thank both Captain Chuck (click here) and Captain Hans (click here), who offered discounts to take the veterans on board; Dan Sanderman, the owner of the Carnelian Bay 7-11, who provided snacks and drinks for each of the veterans and will be a key future player; Amy and Kent and the outstanding waitstaff at Gar Woods, all of whom provided a very special lunch; and Pat at Sierra Boat Marina, whose operation offers handicapped access.
“I know we can do more, we can do better,” said Ferguson.
Businesses and community members are encouraged to show their support by contacting Reno’s Wounded Warrior representative Ken Misa at Kmis@woundedwarriorproject.org with services or donations, which will be made available locally for veteran “field trips.”
For more information about the Wounded Warrior Project, click here .