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Veteran and Heavy Equipment Technician Saves Lives With Art and Horsemanship

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Rick Gil’s first experience working with heavy equipment came when he was in the U.S. Marine Corps. While serving as a construction and landmine technician in Iraq, he frequently worked alongside heavy equipment mechanics and operators. After discovering just how much he enjoyed assisting them and getting his hands dirty, Gil decided to seek a job in the heavy equipment industry when he got out of the service in 2003. He ended up at West Side Tractor Sales’ Wauconda, Illinois, location, where he’s worked for the past 15 years.

“What I love best about technician work is that it’s a different mission every day; it’s not repetitive or boring,” Gil said. “Every day is a new challenge and, as a veteran, that’s what keeps me going.”
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West Side Tractor Sales was right where Gil needed to be to help customers, as well as to help veterans like himself.

“I started getting involved with local veterans’ organizations, including the Polish Legion of American Veterans,” he said. “One of our customers came in and asked if there was a Marine who knew how to ride horses. Everyone knew I was a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none,’ so they suggested me. The customer was like, ‘You’re perfect – we want you to come out,’ so I went out to the barn, which was right down the road from my house. They got me on a horse and said, ‘You’re perfect; we’ll teach you.”
 
So began Gil’s involvement with Operation Wild Horse, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of veteran suicide. Operation Wild Horse teaches veterans and active-duty service members basic horsemanship from the ground up. The organization also participates in parades, and their contribution often includes a riderless horse to honor the fallen.

“Operation Wild Horse is an organization that gives veterans a riding chance to survive,” Gil said. “When I got involved, they needed some help with their barn. I talked to the folks at West Side Tractor Sales and told them what a great organization it is and they said they’d be happy to help. I also reached out to Home Depot and they donated $25,000 of materials. With donated materials from Home Depot, heavy equipment rentals from West Side Tractor Sales, and volunteers from both Home Depot and West Side Tractor Sales, we completed a $100,000 barn project that makes it possible for even more veterans to come out and enjoy themselves.”
 
Operation Wild Horse isn’t just committed to saving the lives of veterans and active-duty service members. The horses the organization uses to work with veterans are wild American mustangs, which many consider to be a threatened species. “Not only do the horses rescue the veterans, but we veterans raise money to rescue these horses,” Gil explained. “I make American flags out of recycled materials and sell them so that I can give that money right back to the organization.”
 
Thus far, Gil’s efforts to raise money through art have been wildly successful. He and a Marine Corps pal sold enough flags to sponsor a horse. At $10,000 a year, the sponsorship is no small feat, but entirely worth it, according to Gil.
 
“Operation Wild Horse is an amazing program; it’s really wonderful and it works,” he said. “The organization runs entirely on donations, so we’re always looking for sponsors – anyone who appreciates veterans and would love to change their lives. The life of a veteran is so valuable.”
 

For more information on West Side Tractor Sales, visit www.westsidetractorsales.com, or connect with the company on Facebook and YouTube. To learn more about Operation Wild Horse – including how to get involved as a veteran or sponsor – call Patti Gruber at 847-561-8194, email pgruber@veteransrandr.org or visit bullvalleyequestriancenter.weebly.com/operation-wild-horse. Operation Wild Horse is also on Facebook.
 

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