By Jason Gehrman –
Since I was a small child I have read the pages you have created, I have lived, loved and learned from the sport of snowmobiling more than I ever thought possible. Other than my wife, son and daughter it has been my true love since I was a child. Working as a police officer for the last eleven years I have seen a great deal of loss and sadness, the sport of snowmobiling was always a way for me to take a break and re-charge my batteries if you will.
Over the years I have had the privilege of being able share my love of the sport with family, friends and people I met along the way. I wanted to share the story of one person that changed my life and changed how I viewed the world and everything in it.
February 20th, 2016 I lost my stepfather, a friend and more importantly my hero. Col. Jerry Driscoll lost a six year battle to Primary Lateral Sclerosis (PLS) a form of the more well-known disease ALS.
Col. Driscoll had a list of accomplishments a mile long during his 24 years of service with the United States Air Force (USAF). Col. Driscoll began his career with the USAF when he joined the Air Force Academy in Colorado in 1959. Years later Col. Driscoll found himself in North Vietnam fighting for his country during the Vietnam War. While flying his 112th mission over North Vietnam, April 24th, 1963 Col. Driscoll was shot down going 600 miles per hour at a thousand feet. Due to the damage sustained from enemy fire the plane inverted and rolled upside down. Col. Driscoll was able to finally pull the ejection handle and after striking the planes canopy, woke up on the ground and was quickly taken into custody by Vietnamese soldiers. Col. Driscoll became an American prisoner of war (POW) for the next seven years until his release in February 1973.
After returning home Col. Driscoll continued his service in the USAF and in 1974 began instructing other pilots the skills they needed to survive. In 1987 Col. Driscoll retired from the USAF after 24 years and with some of the highest decorations possible. Some of his decorations included: A Silver Star, two Legions of Merit, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Bronze Stars with Valor, two Purple Hearts, two Meritorious Service Medals, ten Air Medals and three Air Force Commendation Medals.
Upon his retirement with the USAF Col. Driscoll never gave up on his love of flying and year’s later rose to rank of Captain with both American Airlines and an Executive transportation company, Net Jets. A short time after turning in his wings with Net Jets Col. Driscoll was diagnosed with PLS and finally lost the battle on February 20th, 2016.
Over the years I learned a great deal from this man. I learned patience, forgiveness, a sense of right/wrong and what it true meaning of serving was. In 1999 Tom Hanks Produced a documentary titled “Return with Honor”. The documentary interviewed many American heroes, including Col. Driscoll about life as a POW and the things they had to endure. Over the years I had the privilege to sit and listened to countless speeches given by my stepfather. The one thing that has always stuck with me over the years was the comments people made after hearing what POW’s went through. Phrased differently, the idea was always the same, “how did you survive?” followed by “I never could have done what you did”. The response from him was always the same, a moment of silence followed by “what choice did I have, I chose to live”. He’d always end with advice, do what you love and love what you do. Col. Driscoll loved what he did, he loved flying and he loved his country.
My stepfather also loved adventure and sharing it with his family. Some of my greatest memories were vacations together snowmobiling on a pair of 1993 ZR 440’s bought from Nelson Marine. As a family we took numerous trips to northern Minnesota on those Cats and put on many trouble free miles. It really didn’t matter what we were doing, you could always see the love of life in his eyes and the gratitude for all days he had been given. Col. Driscoll is a large part, the reason I am the man I am today. I serve proudly as a police officer helping others and also have learned to cherish every day. One of my biggest joy’s as a father is watching my children Justin and Ava grow. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to pass on to them, things I have learned and share with them many experiences as they grow. Every day as a father is a gift I do not take lightly, and I try my best to instill the important things in life to them passed to me by people like Col. Driscoll.
After losing my stepfather last year I didn’t know how to grieve my loss, how to move on without him. I was left with over whelming sense loss for one of the kindest and bravest men I’ve ever known.
I took on a project, kind of a tribute to the man I loved and respected. I built a sled with a heart of a hero, one that he would have loved to pilot. I started with a bone stock new 2016 Polaris Axys and added a few things to make it one of the most fun sleds I have ever had a chance to ride. In fact the first hill I climbed after finishing it made me just giggle like a child.
I started by removing the weak factory bumpers and replacing them with a sturdy set from Skinz. Next I deleted the headlights and added a small LED unit in an effort to shave some weight. All the shocks were replaced with Fox Float Zero Pro’s. Next small things like GPS, TKI belt tensioner, Burandt Backcountry bags and Acerbis Handguards were all added. Now it was time for a custom wrap, one that had a special meaning for me. Rob at Blown Concepts knocked it out of the park as usual. On both sides of the gas tank I had the American POW symbol layered into the wrap. It serves as a reminder to me that life is a gift, cherish every day you have and not take for granted. It’s a symbol to the sacrifices others gave for all the freedoms we have.
Finally Eric Woog and the boys and Alpine Motorsports in Kremmling, CO. added a Boondocker Sidekick turbo for a little added power. Eric and Shane, I can’t thank you guys enough for all the hard work.
Over the years I have owned and ridden a great deal of snowmobiles, but this one has been the most gratifying sled to build and definitely the most fun to ride.
Col. Driscoll’s funeral was a sad but amazing sight to behold. Service men and women of the USAF came to pay their respects to a man who dedicated his life to helping others. A formation of Jets was dispatched from an Air Base in Duluth and flew in the “Missing Man” formation. Three Aircraft perform a fly over followed by a loan aircraft flying up and out of sight in memory of a fallen pilot. It’s funny, as the jets passed a little smile came across my face, because at that brief moment I knew no matter where he was, my step dad was looking down and smiling.
Like my tank reads, Col. Driscoll “you are not forgotten” nor will you ever be.
Roseville Police Department