The first time Washington resident Matt Mickunas put on a uniform was as a young Boy Scout 34 years ago. From there, he quickly climbed the ranks from Eagle Scout to Sea Scout, to Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps student before signing his first enlistment contract at the age of 17. After serving for 24 years, Mickunas retired as an Army Infantry Senior NCO, and was soon hired as a field supervisor with Northwest Protective, supervising the Ports of Tacoma and high-rise buildings in Seattle.
An active and standout participant in the Merging Vets and Players (MVP) program and regional president for the Paralyzed Veterans of America's PNW chapter, Mickunas was recognized this month as the Seattle Seahawks' Community Captain, presented by Delta Air Lines.
"We are excited to be partnering with the Seattle Seahawks to recognize members of the community who are already going above and beyond to make a positive impact, helping to build empathy and understanding through their actions," said Tony Gonchar, Delta Air Lines' Vice President – Seattle, when the Community Captain campaign was first announced.
As a form of appreciation for his impact, the Seattle Seahawks and Delta attended a recent MVP meeting to surprise Mickunas with the award. Mickunas was presented with a Delta Community Captain football, a custom Seahawks jersey, and invited to attend the Salute to Service game against the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 21. Additionally, Delta Aircraft Maintenance Technician and U.S. Navy & Army Veteran David Neville joined the MVP Huddle conversation and donated water bottles and new gym equipment on behalf of Delta Air Lines.
Mickunas sustained several physical and mental injuries in combat and in training, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), hearing loss, and lower spinal injuries, and complications during a spinal fusion replacement operation that left him paralyzed. The lack of support resources available, Mickunas said, made him a very angry, anxious, and deeply depressed veteran.
"Mental health services were available, but there was no real help for me," he said. "Nobody was there to help my distinct issues and deep depression as a veteran that is paralyzed and has PTSD."
For the past five years, Mickunas said he has lived in a deep state of uncertainty and let his emotions build up within him. But he reached a turning point when he came across "a group of what was to be the closest brothers and sisters that I did not know, yet" through the MVP program. By merging veterans and former professional athletes, the MVP program creates a supportive environment where individuals can share each other's strength and experience, and can support each other with transition, personal development, and building fulfilling lives.
Mickunas found comfort within two aspects of the MVP program: the workout session and the "Huddle." The weekly session begins with an exercise regimen intended to naturally jumpstart endorphins and strengthen thought processes. The Huddle builds on this by facilitating a safe environment for members to share in vulnerabilities and empowers them to speak freely about their experiences in a trustworthy space.
"My stress and attitude subsided, my confidence strengthened, and I felt like a different person all around," Mickunas said. "It's not just me going through this, it's everyone helping each other because we just relate."
In addition to his weekly workouts and Huddles with MVP, Mickunas plans to continue volunteering with multiple veterans and community outreach organizations as well as participating in recreational adaptive sports and adaptive sports clinics.
The Seattle Seahawks and Delta Air Lines attended a recent Merging Vets and Players (MVP) meeting to surprise Matt Mickunas with the Delta Community Captain award. Mickunas, a former Army Infantry Senior NCO, is an active and standout participant in the MVP program and regional president for the Paralyzed Veterans of America's PNW chapter.