NEW GLOUCESTER – Jamil Nassar turned in the snowstorm to shout orders at his elder friend. Respect for Bill Brundage aside, Army humor came first.
“Attention, soldier! Stand up straight!,” Nassar yelled, standing at attention himself.
“Oh, shut up,” Brundage chuckled, as the 84-year-old shuffled along in the snow.
The banter was all in good fun for the two veterans who were out in a snowstorm at 2,500-acre Pineland Farms searching for control stations on an orienteering course. They were two of just four veterans who showed up for the program in last week’s storm, but in the year it has been offered, the program has welcomed 30 veterans who have come to learn and participate in outdoor sports.
The program was started last winter by Kristina Sabasteanski, a two-time Olympian, occupational therapist and Army veteran, along with her husband, Matt, the director of the Outdoor Center at Pineland Farms and also a 22-year veteran who served in both the Army and Marine Corps.
As the husband-wife outdoor team welcomed Nassar and Brundage to the campus, it was clear how their time in the military helps here. The two former Army serviceman — Nassar who served in Vietnam and Brundage who served in Korea – immediately joked with Kristina about how much better Army soldiers are than Marines.
Then Brundage lapsed into stories about when he was shipped to Germany. And as Nassar took off on the orienteering course with Kristina Sabasteanski, he shared the story of how he was awarded the Silver Star in Vietnam for showing gallantry in combat.
The lesson in orienteering, the sport with military origins, was not why the two men came here. They both traveled five hours from Lincoln to learn to cross-country ski.
But the conversations about military service that erupted easily — sometimes out of Nassar’s jokes about his drill sergeant past — were exactly why Matt and Kristina Sabasteanski wanted them here.
Matt Sabasteanski remembered how the veterans-only program helped a 20-something serviceman from the Iraq war. He told a story of a man so troubled and full of anxiety, he didn’t want to join in the outdoor sport of the day.
“And I served there, so I know why,” Sabasteanski said.
But by the end of a morning spent with other veterans, the young man began participating and, better than that, talking with his new friends.
Now in its second year, the program focuses on disabled veterans participating in everything from adaptive cycling and hockey to archery. And word about the program is beginning to spread.
Nassar and Brundage heard about it at the Togus Veterans Healthcare center in Augusta. Wednesday they drove before dawn from Lincoln to Togus, where a therapist took them in a van the rest of the way.
“I was supposed to learn to ski at Fort Devens in Massachusetts, for training. But then I was deployed. I’ve always wanted to learn,” Nassar said as he walked across the Pineland campus in the storm.
“We got up at 3 a.m. to drive down. My wife called me and said, ‘You didn’t tell me you were going skiing.’ But it’s something I always wanted to do,” said Nassar of Lee.
At the end of the day, both said walking in the snow was a struggle on knees made weak by age, but they would be back.
“We have friends at Togus. They’ll be down, too. They’ll be here,” Nassar said.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: