After a week of rock climbing, rafting, fly fishing and more, George Kalinowski was most excited about being among fellow veterans who really listened.
Kalinowski, a Vietnam veteran and East Carolina alumnus, was one of ten participants on a recent trip that allowed combat wounded veterans to bond and realize new capabilities through specially adapted outdoor sports. From Aug. 9-14 at the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colorado, Kalinowski and veterans of other conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan were able to build confidence and camaraderie.
“The trip was outstanding. Everybody was opening up. I think they liked having the old guy there,” said Kalinowski, who suffered shrapnel wounds in Vietnam and received a Purple Heart. “No one takes the time to listen to veterans, at any age. With the guys, we opened up more when we realized we’d gone through similar things. They wanted to hear what I had to say. They were really supportive, and I wanted to support them too.”
Kalinowski was selected for the trip after applying through the East Carolina Alumni Association Military Alumni Chapter. This year, the chapter partnered with No Boundaries, a non-profit that offers this trip to veterans from across the country twice a year, in the summer and winter, at no cost to veterans.
“My favorite part was the fly fishing, but every activity was great,” he said. “A couple times, I doubted myself, and thought some of this stuff was beyond what I could do at my age. But everything went really well.”
Kalinowski grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. His father was an Air Force officer. He came to ECU on the recommendation of one of his high school teachers. He joined a fraternity and studied accounting, but was drafted into the Army before he could graduate. He worked in several fields throughout his career, including real estate and as the part owner of a sign company.
“Life has been good to me, I’ve been fairly well off,” he said. “But being retired, I wasn’t doing much. This trip inspired me to get in shape. My family was worried it would be too much strain. I’ve been a couch potato, but now I’ve got a whole new attitude.”
On the last night of the trip, participants were invited to be guests of honor at a local rodeo. They were brought to the center of the ring as the announcer thanked them for their service.
“The crowd stood up and clapped. I’m not an emotional person, but that got to me,” Kalinowski said. “We were so unwelcome when we came home. I’m so glad the nation is supporting veterans better.”
Kalinowski “overwhelmingly” recommends the trip to other Pirate veterans. “No doubt about it, you won’t be sorry,” he said. “It’s great what these organizations are doing for us.”
The next No Boundaries trip will be March 7-12, 2017. Applications will be due Jan. 2. ECU alumni or students who are combat wounded veterans are encouraged to apply.
The Military Alumni Chapter hosts various programs throughout the year and is open to any East Carolina alumni with current or past military service. To find more information, get involved or support the chapter, visit PirateAlumni.com/militaryalumni.