South Surrey’s James Pearson, who volunteers with the Point Roberts fire department, is hosting a fundraiser Nov. 11 to raise money for veterans who struggle with PTSD. (Contributed photo)

Volunteer firefighter and former marine to row for PTSD support

Former member of U.K.’s elite Royal Marine Commando unit to launch Remembrance Day fundraiser

A former Royal Marine Commando, who has faced his own battle with post-traumatic stress disorder, is organizing a fundraiser to benefit veterans who may be facing the same post-service struggle.

James Pearson, a U.K. citizen who moved to the U.S. in 2010 before relocating to South Surrey seven years ago, spent four years in the U.K.’s elite Royal Marine Commando unit.

According to the Royal Navy website, the commando is tasked with missions ranging from “amphibious assaults,” to humanitarian aid and large-scale combat operations.

Every year since he left the military, Pearson has organized or participated in some form of “physical hardship” as a way to collect donations from friends or family, which he in turn hands over to a veteran-related charity.

This year, Pearson will host a 24-hour ‘row-a-thon’ at the Point Roberts Fire Department. Pearson is one of 36 firefighter volunteers from Canada who support the Point Roberts fire department.

“They don’t have a large enough pool of people to tax to get the revenue for a full-time department. So it’s basically all out of the kindness of our hearts, as they say,” Pearson said.

Except for a two-minute moment of silence at 11:11 a.m. on Nov. 11, firefighters and other participants will keep at least two rowing machines in motion for 24 hours to raise money for veterans struggling with PTSD. The effort is to begin at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 11 and finish at midnight the following day.

Pearson said he’ll personally be logging four hours on the machine.

Money collected through the event, and an online GoFundMe page leading up to it, is to be dedicated to the Honour House Society in Canada and Wounded Warrior Project in the U.S.

From his personal experience, Pearson said that PTSD is “prevalent” in both working military men and women and veterans.

“I felt like I got over my post traumatic stress disorder quite quickly. I have coworkers and friends that haven’t been so lucky,” Pearson told Peace Arch News Thursday (Oct. 31.).

“For me, it’s really just about kind of that moment of solidarity with those men and women that still serve and struggle.”

SEE ALSO: Mountie to walk 239 kilometres to raise awareness for PTSD

SEE ALSO: Feds promise more service dogs for vets with PTSD

Pearson said that PTSD often goes unnoticed throughout a serviceman or woman’s career, but they then start to notice symptoms once they turn in their uniform for civilian life.

“After they actually leave the military, they realize, ‘Oh, I’m really uncomfortable in a crowd,’ or ‘I’m always on edge when I’m out in public.’”

An issue, he said, is that those in service don’t get the help they need because they haven’t yet realized they have a problem.

When you leave the military, not only do you lose your income, but you lose close contact with your friends and your living environment in the turn of a day, he added.

“And I think that’s a big part of what a lot of veterans struggle with after the fact, because there’s that sense of aimlessness. What’s the next thing?”

The decision to go with rowing, instead of running or another physical activity, was by design.

Pearson said the fundraiser is a nod to Operation Frankton – a commando raid on ships in the Nazi-occupied Port of Bordeaux, on the Garonne River in Southwest France during the Second World War.

The mission involved a submarine transporting 10 commandos to the canal. The commandos were tasked with kayaking more than 100 kilometres to docked Nazi ships in the Port of Bordeaux.

The commandos paddled at night – while carrying bombs fixed with magnets – and hid during the day.

Following the attack, the initial plan was for the commandos to walk about 160 kilometres northeast and escape to Spain.

However, only two of the commandos who launched from the submarine survived the raid. Six of eight were executed by the Germans and two died of hypothermia.

Eactly 75 years after Operation Frankton, a group of 34 military men and women recreated the journey in honour of the mission. A video of their experience can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhgBeyPNYsE

Pearson said it’s a famous mission in military circles, and incorporating rowing into the fundraiser is a way to sell it to his former Royal Marine colleagues.

“They’re all doing their own thing as well. We kind of give to each other’s families and events,” Pearson said.

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