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SANTA CRUZ—Santa Cruz High School alum and former U.S. Navy SEAL Andy Stumpf plans to don a wingsuit and drop from a plane at 37,265 feet in an attempt to break four world altitude and distance records in a single flight.
The real mission, he says, is to highlight the work of the Navy Seal Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides services to Navy SEALS and their families.
Stumpf hopes to raise $1 million for the Foundation by Nov. 11, Veterans Day. The organization spent about that amount on services for families of Naval Special Warfare soldiers and personnel in 2014.
“The Navy SEAL Foundation is an amazing organization,” said Stumpf, who describes the foundation’s life-long commitment to a soldier’s family as “an amazing backstop to help support soldiers going overseas.”
Stumpf, 37, graduated from Santa Cruz High in 1996 and joined the Navy when he was 17. By the time he was 19, he was a SEAL. He served for nearly 17 more years.
His father, Vaughn Stumpf, one of his biggest supporters, describes his son as “a very driven and unique person” who hung a Navy SEAL flag in his bedroom and competed in adult events when he was still a junior lifeguard.
“He’s never asked for anything for himself,” Vaughn Stumpf said. “It’s always about taking care of other people.”
Stumpf’s GoFundMe campaign, “Man On A Mission,” has raised more than $51,000 from 268 people since it was launched last month. KillCliff recovery drink, a company founded by a former SEAL, has promised to donate $250,000 to the Foundation as a sponsor of the event.
“Personally I don’t care about records at all,” Stumpf said. The flight is “just a shiny object to drive awareness for the fundraiser. If I break all the records but don’t raise $1 million, they really don’t matter.”
What does matter is having an impact, Stumpf said, recounting the tangible rewards he experienced as an active Navy SEAL and a frustration about letting go of his military service.
“It eats at me personally, that I can’t be involved in the same way I used to,” he said. “The million bucks is a way for me to feel still involved.”
Stumpf who was wounded in Iraq, didn’t receive services from the foundation himself, but he tells the story of a dear friend, Jason Lewis, who trained with him, served with him, stood in his wedding, but didn’t come home from Iraq.
“They were like brothers,” Jean Mariano, Lewis’ mother said on a video on the GoFundMe campaign site. “They were like kindred souls.”
Soldiers need to know mechanisms are in place for their families, Stumpf said.
“It’s an amazing boost in confidence and security to know there are organizations there to help your family in case something catastrophic happens.”
Since Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, nearly 100 Naval Special Warfare members have died in war or training. The foundation provides care for their families “for as long as they need us,” said Sara Berry of the Navy Seal Foundation.
“That is our commitment to these warriors — that we will be here for their families,” Berry said. “We are humbled by Andy’s incredible drive and his steadfast determination to honor his friend Jason Lewis by undertaking such an ambitious campaign.”
Stumpf, who played water polo and baseball in high school, calls himself a mediocre athlete who found his passion in parachute jumping and wingsuit flying. He has traveled the world for jumps and trains military pararescue jumpers.
“It kind of keeps me sane,” he said. “You’re not worried about your checkbook when you’re standing on a ledge getting ready to jump.”
For Stumpf, jumping and wingsuit flying is both a team sport filled with camaraderie and a peak personal experience creating a point of singular mental and physical focus.
“You’re literally flying,” Stumpf said. “It provides me absolute clarity and focus. In that moment, you really enjoy that feeling of firing on all cylinders. Then you step off and you feel like a bird. You’re in full control. You can pinch and glide. It’s refreshing. You get to strip everything away.”
There is no date yet set for the attempt as it depends on weather, winds and event permits. The drop site is outside of Davis. Stumpf will be using GPS receivers to guide his flight. Unlike a parachute jump, a wingsuit flight has a slower, more horizontal drop.
He is married and has three children younger than the age of 12. His father and grandfather served in the Navy. His children won’t be present for the record-breaking attempt.
“I’ll take them to school the day before and I’ll tell them they’re there with me,” Stumpf said. “And, they will be. Then, you focus exactly on what it is you need to do so you can accomplish it and go.”
What: The foundation is a 501(c)(3), tax exempt, national nonprofit charitable foundation providing benefits and services to Naval Special Warfare members and their families that complement what is provided by Department of the Navy and the Department of Defense. The foundation provides family initiatives such as mortgage support, legal assistance, grief counseling, childcare, and health and wellness programs.
Financial: In 2014, the foundation invested more than $8 million dollars in support of the Naval Special Warfare community, including more than $1 million dollars for surviving families. By 2019, the budget is expected to grow to more than $9 million.
Headquarters: 1619 D St., Virginia Beach, VA 23459.
Information: 757-363-7490; http://www.navysealfoundation.org/
Gofundme site: http://www.gofundme.com/NSFmanonamission
Current world records to beat: Highest altitude (more than 37,250 feet); longest time in free fall (more than 9 minutes and 6 seconds); furthest horizontal distance traveled in a wingsuit (more than 16.41 miles) and longest combined distance traveled in a wingsuit and parachute combined (more than 17.5 miles).
This article first appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.