Veterans Day found the Warrior Bonfire Program doing what it always does year round, bringing Purple Hearts together, working the issues and celebrating life! Back in Vienna, Missouri for its 2nd Annual Missouri Fishing Trip at Charwood Lake, this event is all about getting off the grid, relaxing and breathing, far away from the stresses of the world. Charwood is a private, 40-acre lake with a lodge on 200 beautiful, wooded acres in central Missouri. The Bonfire traveled far to find this sanctuary in the cold with three Purple Hearts coming from sunny Florida and one trekking in from Colorado. The travel was long but the welcome was worth it as they were greeted with a yummy pulled pork dinner for our hungry travelers.
Like all of our events, this group connected immediately, taking to the game room after dinner, for friendly competition and disarming the barrier walls that have been built around their injuries and dark memories. The blanket of security enveloped this group quickly, allowing for some the first real opportunity to shed the pain. Late into the evening after a long day of travel this group fell fast asleep and woke up late to start the day on Friday. A good breakfast at the Market kicked off the day and fueled this crew for fishing and some vicious bantering at our private fishing "Tournament". With every catch the battle of the words increased; “I caught the first fish”, “that isn’t a fish, it’s a minnow”, “you stole my pole”, etc. This is way more healing than it appears! These interactions create comfort and commonality.
These interactions set the stage for our more intense sessions of "Pain Shared is Pain Divided, Joy Shared is Joy Multiplied". Trauma for these brothers and sisters was shared and shed, washed away in tears and healed in hugs. The joy this group felt for one of their own opening up for the first time was incredibly overwhelming and will not be forgotten.
November 11, Veterans Day, this group stepped back in time for a bit to enjoy a ride around the lake in an old 5 ton Army dump truck, driven by Purple Heart Nathan Wood, followed by more fishing, more bantering and then ending with our signature Bonfire ceremony. A very appropriate ending to a very special day. Purple Heart Jonathan Flores stated about the ceremony, "I loved the flag ceremony, it was very meaningful and gave me the closure that I never had. It gave me a way to show respect for my brothers I lost along the way."
Special acknowledgment and thanks, goes out to Dr. Mike Pasque for sharing his property with us, Dave Pasque of Denver, CO, for hosting the event and Ken Miner of St Louis, MO, for coming to support our Purple Heart Recipients. You are all part of the strong foundation of the Warrior Bonfire Program through your tireless efforts in making our Bonfires special.
See the photos from this event by clicking HERE
The Bonfire Ruck is a new yearly Warrior Bonfire Program fundraising and awareness campaign designed to raise awareness of the rise in Veteran Suicide and the challenges of PTSD. It is our hope that adventure seeking individuals that want to help make a difference and have a passion for bettering the lives of our combat wounded veterans, will accept extraordinary challenges to complete for the purpose of drawing attention to our mission.
The Bonfire Ruck can happen almost anywhere at anytime. This year, starting October 16th, 2017, two U.S. Marines will walk the entire width of the state of Mississippi. The challenge is 155 miles from the Alabama state line to the Mississippi River in Vicksburg, MS. The goal is to complete it in five days, weather permitting. (Link to support website page)
The Bonfire Ruck is easily duplicated in any region or adventure, and funds raised will go directly to benefit the Warrior Bonfire Program to fulfill the mission. At the Warrior Bonfire Program we attack the the major fundamental problems sighted by the Purple Heart Veterans that have attended our programs, isolation and self-medication. Both of these issues are directly linked to PTSD and Suicide.
Our programs and retreats are designed to set the example and expectation to our Purple Hearts and combat veterans to push hard to battle these bad habits. We show our veterans how to pull out of isolation by going on our retreats and trust being around those just like themselves to find support. While at our program events, alcohol and non-prescription illegal substances are not permitted, again offering the ability to experience time not using those crutches while being surrounded by support of their peers. For some, the initial realization of this is a bit shocking but with the support of everyone present, they see it is very doable. The small group of six is the game changer that makes us unique and successful.
If you're interested in doing a Bonfire Ruck whether it be climbing Pikes Peak, walking the Appalachian Trail, kayaking the Mississippi River or wherever you love to be, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn about our Bonfire Ruck: Between the Lines
#BonfireRuck #PTSD #VeteranSuicidePrevention
Escaping “The Trap” is what we do at the Bonfire and our last trip highlighted that this is an answer to the growing problem. Kentucky is officially now, an annual Bonfire destination! This trip provided the perfect mix of activities from sailing, fishing, sporting clays, boating and swimming with much needed down time and relaxation. Sometimes our events can be a bit rigorous with a tight itinerary to keep our Purple Hearts moving but we are finding the trips that allow for more time to chill and talk, while in the outdoors, are most beneficial trips. Board of Director member Lloyd Munn, who assisted on this event when asked of his experience stated strongly and with conviction, "this is the REAL deal!"
The common theme here was the conversation of how to keep combat injured veterans from withdrawing and being alone. As Purple Heart David Connelly stated, “guys isolating themselves is never safe.” Very often on these trips we hear comments such as, “getting all up in your head is a trap” or “I just sit in my workshop and only come out to eat”. This is why we do what we do at the Warrior Bonfire Program; we give them the opportunity, at no cost and little effort, to get out of these dark places. We show the example of how to physically get moving, we give them the connections to call each other and go! It is our goal that over time, these men and women will find strength in this practice and take it home to their families, fellow veterans, and communities.
Another area of discussion and that our participants feel the need of more attention, is that more and more we are learning that Veterans are choosing to self-medicate rather than risk going to the VA’s and being prescribed medication that have the zombie like side effects. Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol coupled with isolation is incredibly dangerous. As the suicide rate among veterans continues to be higher than any other demographic, we need to focus on solutions.
The Warrior Bonfire Program believes that solution is exactly doing what we do. Showing the example to get out, be a part of a community, go new places, try new things, be around peers that will tell you and set an expectation to be better, make better choices, be healthier and choose living large rather than living lonely. The network of the Brotherhood is out there.
We thank all those of the Grand Rivers, KY community for their support and generosity by providing fishing, sailing, live music entertainment and their “unbridled spirit!”
Click Here for Photos of the trip!
On September 11, 2017, two schools in opposition on the field and courts came together for a greater cause, in honor of first responders and military service men and women. Presbyterian Christian School of Hattiesburg, MS and Jackson Academy of Jackson, MS not only competed Monday evening in volley ball, soccer and softball, but they brought the competition to a higher level.
Playing sports is wonderful for many reasons such as team building, health, mental training, and competition, but in addition to these, the best reason to play sports is for the life lessons that are taught. Playing or working for something bigger than yourself, like many of our first responders and military do everyday.
Coaches Jacob Morgan and Christina Lawrence, along with PCS Athletic Director, Josh Dorman, led the charge to pull together a fundraising operation where both schools sold over 275 shirts and all proceeds went to the Warrior Bonfire Program. As part of Patriot Day at Presbyterian Christian School, shirts designed with a 9 on the front and an 11 on the back displayed with "Never Forget", were sold to students and parents, raising $2,000 in support of our Purple Hearts. Local vendor American Graphics partnered with the operation to offer high quality shirts at an extremely low cost allowing the schools to donate all proceeds.
Patriot Day consisted of a morning Pep Rally, where education of the events of 9/11 was presented, a moment of silence, and local firefighters, policemen, and military were honored. Also, at all events on campus, volleyball, soccer and softball, again recognition was given to local first responders and military.
In attendance on the behalf of Warrior Bonfire Program was Lloyd Munn. Not only is Munn a popular local musician in Hattiesburg and father of a PCS alum, but he serves on our Board of Directors and organized our ever growing and energetic, Jammin at the Bonfire, program. Munn had just returned that day from assisting on the Warrior Bonfires' 43rd signature Bonfire event held in Grand Rivers, Kentucky. Munn shared his experience and witness of his time with six Purple Heart veterans over the weekend. Munn summed it up with, "it's the real deal!"
The Warrior Bonfire Program is extremely honored to have been chosen to benefit from this awesome display of support. We thank all those that organized and participated! Being that we serve Post 9/11 Purple Hearts, those that truly stepped up to battle the evil that changed American lives forever, this gesture touched our hearts.
If we do not show our young Americans that we support those that keep us safe in return for their service, why would they ever consider stepping up to serve and protect.? They are our future!
Our first Bonfire in Utah has been burned and we hope this particular fire will spread! Unlike the wildfires that this part of the country typically has to fight, our Bonfire creates life and healing. Our stay at Sportsman’s Paradise at Whites Ranch in Paradise, Utah provided the optimum spot for “Reel Recovery”! Our Purple Heart Veterans were welcomed to fly fish at any time of the day at this catch and release facility which provided unbelievable peace from the enormous stresses and anxieties of the world.
"This is an great facility and is perfect what we are trying to do at our Bonfire events." Purple Heart WBP Ambassador Stacey Rice
Along with great peace we found empowerment through the message of Adapt and Overcome as we blazed trails through the mountains on horseback! Due to the generosity of Utah State Universities’ Extension services and their Ride Utah program, the Warrior Bonfire veterans had two days of trail rides with horses particularly matched with the veterans’ needs. The time and care taken to match horse to veteran, created a safe environment that fostered trust and comfort. Horseback riding as a therapy is one of the very best tools for both physical and mental injuries. While on horseback, the rider must find confidence and be able to let go or control his or her anxieties in order for the horse to follow commands. Horses can sense the rider’s inner being and will gladly take control if the rider does not. The trail ride experience forces the rider to focus on the task at hand which eliminates the ability to think about other things, especially negative things. Learning this mindset as a tool to manage challenges due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injuries and major physical injuries, offers our veterans the ability to get out more often and experience life, find purpose and once again give of themselves to society for the greater good.
For combat veterans with PTSD, TBI and physical injuries, managing every day stresses brought on by political arguments, opinions on social media, traffic noise, financial pressure, marital stress and many other things that may be out of their ability to control, can be suffocating. Therefore, providing opportunities to disconnect yet be connected at the same time with those just like themselves can be an incredible life saver.
“To be around other Purple Hearts is so good because I feel like they are just like me and I don’t feel like I’m being judged.” Purple Heart Participant (to remain anonymous)
Activities on our trips offer new tools and experiences but the most powerful thing we offer is the small group environment made up of all vetted Purple Hearts. This platform creates a comfortable
space which encourages these men and women to talk through and share their burdens without feeling judged or that their struggles aren’t real because everyone there has felt the same. Throughout the weekend issues that are heavy and full of guilt, anger, and frustration quickly become small and manageable as the veterans all remind each other of their strength and ability to persevere. The conversations of war stories, the good ones and often funny ones, returns them to a time before they were injured, a time where only life and death mattered and there was no room to worry about all the other little things in life. In an odd way, it was all simpler. This reminder has an empowering effect; it reminds them that they are in fact in control of many things and to focus only on what they can control. Here among brothers they return to the image of the strong warrior, they are uplifted, they are at peace and they stand ready to face the demons ahead.
Visit our photos from this event and check out the superb services from our two sponsors for this trip. We couldn't have done it without their support!
Whenever a group of combat veterans are gathered, retired or not, the potential for an emergency is always rather high. It’s not the type of emergency that most civilians think of first when at a Veteran event, but more on the lines of grown men reverting back to their childhood, a bunch of gigantic 11 year old boys running a muck and playing around. For the most part, they are fairly responsible in this ruckus but sometimes forget, like all adults, gravity takes its toll, bodies don’t react like they once did and then we find a problem on our hands. Unfortunately accidents happen and we do our best to be prepared, but the most amazing thing to witness is what happens all around the incident.
Military training is full of grinding drills, over and over in all sorts of weather and terrain. Whether the training is in the hot muggy Georgia summer sun or on the bitter cold mountains in Alaska skiing downhill with a 50 plus pound ruck on their back, the United States warriors are conditioned in ways to respond to an emergency that they sometimes don’t even understand. The protocols and mapping of that training has been coded into their hard drive, meaning it’s still there even when it’s not practiced and has been filed away for years. As a result, this training is recalled into action without searching for the file on the hard drive as if it is primary behavioral automatic response.
Most of the Veterans that we serve truly believe in their heart of hearts that they had deleted that file of emergency training. Many of them fear that due to their horrific trauma in combat that ultimately removed them from the theater of war, that they now have no ability to jump into action if an emergency appears in front of them. It’s hard to remember, if not a Veteran, that these men and women are natural protectors, and being a protector is a good portion of why they joined the military in the first place. Therefore, this fear of freezing and not being able to respond in an emergency to protect those around them can cause a debilitating and paralyzing sense of self. If they believe they are not able to respond in an emergency, they then believe they cannot protect their wives or children. If they believe they cannot protect those they love, then they begin to believe they are not worthy or deserving of having those loved ones, a happy life or a life at all.
What we have witnessed repeatedly on our weekend events have been some incredible breakthroughs of facing this fear head on and learning to trust again in the training our Veterans have received. We certainly do not work emergencies in on our trips to use as therapy but when they happen, we do address the powerful realizations that the fear of not being able to respond, simply shouldn’t be in their thoughts at all. The emergencies that have happened are mostly not to anyone in the group but those around us, such as people in a crowd where we are, a hunting dog injured by a wild hog, or natural medical emergency of a staff member, have presented unique opportunities for growth.
At the time of such an emergency, like a practiced emergency plan would play out, all six Veterans simply attending a weekend trip of fun, immediately transform back into the warrior on the battlefield. Those that were medics, assess the situation, perform life vitals checks and basic first aid, while the others call 911, organize the scene, and protect all others from any potential secondary accidents. They all automatically pull that file from the hard drive and go to work, they all find a role to support and engage. They all step back and see that they can in fact face trauma again, that they can protect and that they can fully function.
The root of most all stresses and anxieties is fear and any time we can combat those fears and annihilate them, we empower ourselves. Free from fear opens the door to pure joy.
Nothing short of another amazing ski trip in Granby, Colorado this past week, with this group of Purple Heart Veterans breaking through all sorts of barriers. This group like many others immediately bonded even though they didn’t know each prior and traveled from New Mexico, Texas and Mississippi. We arrived in Colorado to a very warm welcome from the Garden of the Gods Rotary Club bearing gifts and goodies for each one of our warriors on behalf of the Colorado Springs Visitor Center. Over the years of traveling to Granby we have made some incredible friends at Project Sanctuary, DeAntonio’s Pizzeria, Granby Ranch Ski Resort, the National Sports Center for the Disabled, Grand County Veterans group, EAA Chapter 1267, Grand Adventures Snow Mobile Tours and world renowned ski instruction Don Neiters. We thank all of them for helping us build a great trip and we certainly couldn’t get there without the help of the Veterans Airlift Command and the Southern Heritage Air Foundation.
“I had the opportunity to do things that I likely wouldn’t have otherwise, I skied and snowmobiled for the first time and got to see beautiful country, “stated Purple Heart Johnny Raines. Johnny was not alone, most all of this group were new to the slopes, the snowmobiles, hot springs, private flights over the mountains and a couple of up close encounters with some moose. “This was a great escape that allowed me to relax and enjoy myself” said Purple Heart David Inbody.
These trips always bring out the inner child in them all. They raced downhill on ski bikes; sling shot each other on the tubing hill and made some magnificent snow angels! Purple Heart Jared Kinsey added, “This is a great chance to enjoy judgement free/story time with people that understand my story.” All the fun we provide on these trips creates an environment where the walls come down and hearts swell. They get comfortable, have fun and this allows for a more relaxed ability to open up about their story, share it again, lay down the burden, and make it more normal. Our talks around the bonfire and the dinner table helps them to be accepting of where they are, who and what they lost, and to be ok with it all.
Sadly, these weeks have to come to an end but not without sending our Purple Heart Veterans off with new tools to help, “maintain when things get overwhelming,” per Rianes, and also leaving our mark on Granby, CO. We are now the "Purple Heart police" having called in to 911 about a very erratic driver in front of us. Turned out we took a “heck of a lot of heroine off the streets” said Granby Police Officer, who knows whose lives were changed that night for the better. That’s what this is all about, getting healthy so our strongest warrior hearts can help others in this world.
See more photos from our Annual Ski Granby Bonfire Trip!
We are starting 2017 with a bang! Two hunting trips in one weekend in two states! (Well actually three if you count a spur of the moment run to Texas to hunt pigs)
As we have for the last three years, we hosted a crew for what has become one of our most sought after events, the Annual Valley Park Deer Hunt in Mississippi. There is always “good fun, good folks and a good time” according to founder Dan Fordice. This event is hosted personally by Dan and his brother Hunter Fordice at their personal lodge where the concept of the Bonfire was originally inspired. Along with the morning and afternoon hunts for both deer and duck, there is always, a bit of fun at the range!
"Helping my brothers is what's helping me." ~Allen Pugh, Purple Heart Veteran
Further south at Johnson Bayou in Louisiana, we had another group gathering at the Bonfire to escape the freezing temperatures up “north” but they too quickly found ice on the water and on the dogs! Hosted by our new friends Russell and Corey Badon, our Purple Heart Veterans found a warm welcome, great blinds and well trained dogs that set up the perfect environment to drop some birds. The cold weather was good for the ducks but our planned fishing trip out on the boats was a bit much with blazing winds. Therefore, we got our hunting credentials in order and took off for some pigs in Texas! A true "Gone to Texas" moment.
These events, as always, are more than just a hunt or a thank you for your service, they are about camaraderie, networking and discovering the tools to promote healing. They are about laying our burdens down, taking time to honor our brothers and sisters lost in battle, and accepting that they would never want to see us suffer on their behalf. Rather, go out and save another brother.
Many thanks to all those that support us by donating, volunteering, spreading the word and appreciating our Purple Heart Veterans.
Introducing the National Whitetail Warrior Project, an organization made up of some the best people Alabama has to offer! This past week we came together to host eight Purple Heart Veterans on a three day hunt at Water Valley Lodge in Gilbertown, Alabama. Our connection was made through an introduction of one of our Board of Advisor members, USAF Colonel Paul Nelson, as he saw a new organization with services to offer and another with vetted members that needed an opportunity to come together at the Bonfire.
A perfect fit that has a strong future ahead.
Veterans from Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia attended the first event for the NWWP as members of the Warrior Bonfire. We were treated to good food, beautiful terrain and a straight up high class Alabama lodge, complete with a perfect game room. The hunting was solid and our guys left with plenty of deer meat for tables across the Southeast this holiday season. But this hunt was more about a greater good than just a hunt. This was about being an example of why many organizations are needed versus just a few large organizations. Individually we fill needs on our own communities, we consistently touch and change lives in a personal way and resources sometimes don’t stretch as far as we need. When we come together and bring our strengths to the table, we educate more and we serve more. Because of this particular partnership the Warrior Bonfire Program will be able to offer more hunts for our alumni members and the National Whitetail Warrior Project will be able to rely on our ability to vet members for these hunts through our online registration and rule of prior travel on non-firearm events prior to attending a hunt.
We are so very grateful for this Bonfire hosted by the NWWP and are privileged to be a partner! Thank you to all that donated to make this event possible and to the Water Valley Lodge for their highly discounted rate. “Good People” as stated by several of the veterans that attended.
Please visit our Gallery to see more.
Thank you to all those that supported and donated to make this event a reality!
The Warrior Bonfire Program conducted its first west coast Bonfire Trip to sunny southern California. The California Beach Bonfire Trip took place at Del Mar Beach Resort, Camp Pendleton, California. Great weather, great surf and a great time was had by all near San Diego. This was also our first fully integrated bonfire trip with another veteran service organization, Warrior Passion, led by a retired Marine, Joe Porrazzo. There is nothing more powerful in the Veteran Care world than organizations working together for the greater good! Our deserving Veterans experienced not one, not two, but three organizations that truly care about their well-being. That worked great and we met a new partner in our quest to help those that have served us all.
Friday’s arrival found our Veterans Airlift Command partner soaring in on time carrying one of our Purple Hearts in style in a Phenom 1000 jet all decked out as if it had just departed the Star-ship Enterprise. Our Southwest traveler from Tampa was not so lucky with a very unexpected layover extension in Nashville but she arrived just in time for the icebreakers on Friday evening. Yes, we said she! Our first female Purple Heart and we couldn’t be more excited!
Beach-side cottages and a dinner spread of grilled tri-tip, bacon stuffed jalapenos, salad and beans awaited our special guests, which set the tone for the entire weekend! Chef Damien out did himself! After dinner we had our first of three campfires complete with s’mores!
Nothing like waking up at your leisure at the beach on a Saturday morning! A welcomed slow start led us to the paddle boards, right outside the back door as we hit Del Mar Boat basin. Lower gravity (sitting and kneeling) boarding is where we found comfort but what does that matter?! We’re at the beach! Of the five us on boards, only two fell in the water, so all good results and passing with flying colors!
Later that afternoon, we headed down to Carlsbad Lagoon and hit the jet skis. This was a blast and no one crashed or took a plunge. (That’s our story and we’re sticking to it!) Later, back at Del Mar, we did some Boogie Boarding and captured some well-deserved R&R. Following another great barbeque dinner, prepared by Chef Joe, we lit the fire, shared our stories and ate more s’mores. (With explanation to Whitney that yes, it’s ok that you burn the marshmallows first).
Our last full day in the water was a fantastic day. Troy (a US Marine Osprey Crew Chief), his wife Heather and their son Stone joined us at the beach to teach us how to surf! With wicked waves and the California Sun, the setting was perfect to celebrate one of our very own achieve getting up and riding the waves! That evening we closed the weekend with the Warrior Bonfire’s Signature Bonfire Ceremony. While a somber and difficult event, the bonfire always brings the group closer together, showing our members that we are all brothers and sisters, full of understanding and support. And of course, once again we ate s’mores!
As the sun rose on Monday, we all relaxed a bit before heading out and got to see Marines swimming with snorkel gear in the boat basin. Del Mar Boat Basin is where the Marines launch amphibious boats and train. It looked like PT as the Gunny, who was in a boat, provided a little bit of loud encouragement. With that, we found our hearts were happy as we all departed for home knowing we had formed a new band of brothers and sisters as part of Team Bonfire. Thank you to all those that made this weekend possible!
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