USMC RETIRED Isaac McCorkle recently attended one of our events, and like many of our Veterans is passionate about helping his brothers and sisters combat Veteran suicide. He wrote the following to those that he met through the Warrior Bonfire Program and allowed us to share. The hope is that the message finds its' way to fellow Veteran that needs to hear it.
Suicidal ideation at times are normal human reactive thought processes. Having these thoughts is a reactionary thought process driven by our present disposition and the conditions in our environment.
It is a human problem and anyone in the right or wrong circumstances will develop these symptomatic thoughts.
We have all felt fear, anger, hurt, sorrow, passion, excitement, despair, pain, anguish, loss, but these emotionally based reactive thought processes are temporary if we take the appropriate counter measures.
If we allow fear to go unaddressed, anger to boil unreleased, resentment to fester, we do not avoid the symptoms but live among them and are controlled by them.
When we talk about our fears and tribulations we realize that we are not alone. When we take a chance and push past stigmas and conventions we are able to recognize our vulnerability our humanity.
There is nothing wrong with being angry or afraid. It is when emotions go unaddressed that they cause unmanageable symptoms. Only when we voice our fears can we develop appropriate counter measures to address our vulnerabilities.
Understand, that these thoughts are products of our environment, experience sets, and are the normal products of our cognitive sentient thought processes.
When we understand that these thoughts are simply normal and we address the issue, we can help mitigate the harshness of the emotions that cause the symptom.
In our own minds and in society we have to dispel the unwarranted stigma that pervades this issue. By talking about this issue we can educate people as to the normal emotional thought processes and stressors that lead to suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
As long as the stigma continues to cause this issue to remain largely misunderstood or unaddressed, we will continue to suffer the symptoms of socially driven emotional obfuscation...
Unattended issues often lead to uncontrollable consequences...
Talk to each other. Crush the unwarranted stigma that is causing so much unnecessary loss of love and talent.
Right off the bat, we are not talking about a bridge that carries you over a river or a road. We are talking about the a bridge that is connecting two groups of Americans, the military community and the civilian community. For three years in a row, the Warrior Bonfire Program has leaned on the support of various communities in southeast Texas, to help us provide a pig and predator hunt as one of our signature Bonfire events for six of our Purple Hearts to attend. Every year the comments at the end of the weekend from the Veterans center around the same theme. The renewed faith they have in civilians and experiencing true appreciation for their service in the United States Military.
Quotes like, "I didn't know that civilians cared so much" or "I am overwhelmed with how many there are here to help and how much they are doing for us."
The food provided at this hunt is amazing! Typical courses are steaks, gumbo, crawfish, Bar-B-Que, with all the fixings and desert too! There is a group of seven companies that call themselves the Southeast Texas Agriculture Support Group, that pulled their resources and employees together to provide these feasts. Beaumont Tractor, Hlavinka, Doguet's Diamond Ranch, J&E Welding Inc., Seabreeze Culvert Inc., GCR Tires of Beaumont and Shoppa's John Deere. Along with this grand effort of generous people are a group of ladies of the Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church Alter Society providing deserts and breakfast casseroles. More than once we have heard a Purple Heart say, "I ate more than I ever normally do because I wanted to make sure they knew I loved it!"
The community also comes out with an outpouring of gifts like custom hunting knives, tumblers with the Warrior Bonfire logo engraved, high end coolers, t-shirts, hats, gift cards, handmade wooden flags with shell casings for stars, local seasonings, and State of Texas shot glasses from the local congressman. It's like Christmas! The Heart of Texas bleeds red, white and blue and their passion for giving back to our Veterans is second to none! They appreciate our Veterans and our Veterans appreciate them.
Our hostess Judy Lewis along with her husband Cody, and their big time helper Brandy Winkler, made our Veterans comfortable at the Triple D Guest Ranch to be well rested for their hog hunts with Cody Stewart and his crew.
Months of preparation and organizing goes into this event each year, pulling in new support and ways to show how much they care for our Veterans, such as a private show by comedian Erik Knowles, also a Marine Veteran. Our unending gratitude for our Board of Adviser Ernest Clement, Jr. and Justin Lewis for pulling all these wonderful people together.
Thank You for Your Service!
For the second time we wrapped up the year end with a hunt in Gilbertown, AL at Water Valley Lodge! This hunt experience always proves to be a dream weekend, with good hunting, good food, fantastic lodging and solid Veteran support all around. This year, three organizations came together to pull their resources to provide a weekend hunt with all the frills. Along with the Warrior Bonfire Program providing access to our Purple Heart members, the Whitetail Warrior Project, Inc. provided lodging and food with the help of Water Valley Lodge and the Southeast Experience crew came in with guides. All coming together, with one goal in mind, to provide the best we have to offer during the holiday season for our Purple Heart Veterans, those that have sacrificed for our freedoms.
Our Bonfire ceremony is reserved mostly for our Purple Heart Veterans but there are times that we invite others to fully understand the power and magnitude of the act of retiring the American Flag. This retirement also includes the naming of those brothers or sisters in service that were lost in battle, giving our members the opportunity to honor and memorialize those that often were responsible for saving the life of the Veteran still in our presence. This act cannot be done enough, as they are forever in our hearts and minds. The impact this ceremony has on those attending is always one that squeezes the heart with an intensity that leaves you weak in the knees and emotionally drained. Hearing the names of fallen heroes echoing in the night, aching to grab hold of their memory and pulling them back, is completely gut wrenching but soothing at the same time. For those that were there, they live the reality everyday, with the questions racing through their minds...
What could I have done differently?
Should it have been me?
Why was it not?
If I could only switch places?
I don't feel lucky at all....
We wanted the guides who were all military, to know what we were truly about and to understand fully what their time and commitment of being there meant to all of us. It is up to us, those that work with veteran care organizations, those as members, to educate and build a bridge of understanding to create deeper healing, growth and support for future generations.
See photos from this event here!
Thank you to our partners that made this opportunity amazing!
Today marks the 5th anniversary of the very first Warrior Bonfire event at Valley Park, Mississippi, January 3, 2013. Tomorrow, January 4, 2018 we will kick off that same hunt and it will also mark our 50th Bonfire event overall. We have come a long way in five years growing from an average of 4 events a year to now 18. Our plan is to continue to grow with our events across the country as well as build the Bonfire Lodge at Camp Down Range in Clinton, MS and develop programs to take place there on a consistent basis for our Purple Heart Veterans.
In the later part of 2012, the vision of the Warrior Bonfire Program began to form in the mind of our founder, Dan Fordice, as he often looked for ways to serve and help his fellow veterans who suffered from injuries both physical and mental. Dan served for a total of 13 years between the U.S. Army and the Mississippi National Guard and it is truly his passion to find resources and connections to relieve any possible obstacles.
Dan found himself in a conversation with SFC (RET. USA) Charles Gregory Williams, who sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury when a Rocket Propelled Grenade struck and exploded a 50 Cal ammunition box two feet from his head and was later medically retired in November 2011 for wounds received while in combat. Greg commented that he could spend a full day with a PhD certified counselor and not come close to the therapeutic value of sitting around a bonfire with five or six guys who were there. Dan quickly responded, “We will provide the bonfire!”
Finding this new purpose to fulfill his passion, Dan began putting in place the structure to build environments that would be most beneficial to our Purple Heart recipients. On the eve of December 30, 2012, Dan organized a small event with family and friends on the sandbar bank of the Mississippi River, with dinner, music and a bonfire. It was then he announced his plans as we gathered around the fire and introduced many of us to the formal retirement of our tired and tattered American Flags. It was then that the Warrior Bonfire Program began.
Dan jumped on putting together trips and bonfires faster than you could light a match. He pulled resources from family and friends, for the use of hunting clubs, transportation, food donations, and more. Each trip continues to build more structure and organization as well as build the fire in our hearts to light the way.
Now the Bonfire has traveled and spread to twenty states, with nearly 250 members being served through various support programs such as Jammin at the Bonfire, Hangin at the Bonfire, Hangin with Heroes, Peer to Peer support program known as the Ambassador Program and our signature Bonfire Adventure events. The Warrior Bonfire Program is recognized by the Combined Federal Campaign, the R4 Alliance, Guidestar Silver, America’s Warrior Partnership, and Great Non-Profits Top Rated organization for three years in a row.
We thank all of our supporters, donors, partners and volunteers for all of their hard work and belief in our programs to keep our Purple Heart Veterans moving forward and striving for a full life.
Join Our Mission and Ignite the Bonfire with continuous support of $15 Monthly
The success of 2017 is truly a reflection of our donors and partners. Without you we couldn't have:
Increased our membership by 50%
Added 18 more events to our records
Visited 14 different states
Actively served 108 Purple Heart Veterans
Supported our membership of nearly 250
Your commitment of an ongoing monthly donation of $15 offers the Warrior Bonfire Program the ability to plan future events and give our Purple Heart Veterans that are struggling from their injuries sustained in combat, more opportunities to:
Find support to combat self medication
See hope in the future
Find a new purpose beyond service
Join Us to IGNITE the Bonfire!
"Remember, you're not just sending six guys hunting, you're convincing six guys to not kill themselves."
~ Purple Heart Greg Williams
SUPPORT the BONFIRE
for $15 a Month
The Military community is truly a small world. Even though 2% of the population of the United States can be a large number of people, service members can easily find themselves in conversations that quickly create familiarity.
These are the questions that come up quickly and instantly it’s like these people have known each other their entire lives! These connections make our bonfire events fun and meaningful, but the real doozy, are the times when two service members actually reconnect with an old battle buddy that they lost contact information. This happens far less this day in time due to technology and social media, but it does happen.
On our last Bonfire event at Featherhorn Farm in Pinewood, South Carolina, this very situation occurred. Our group was being hosted at this location at the same time as two other veteran care organizations serving Purple Hearts. Our Warrior Bonfire Ambassador / Bonfire Leader Tim Bell has never sounded so excited after an event as he did this one. Bell ran into a battle buddy from his time in Fallujah around the time he was injured. “Being able to connect again was really cool and big surprise” Bell said. His emotion can’t fully be reflected in print, but his voice said it all.
Once again we see proof of good life changing things come from putting these events together! The entire group of Purple Heart Veterans came away from this hunt feeling connected and most of all appreciated for their service and sacrifice. Our new partners at Featherhorn Farm, along with owner Jimmy Lee and hunt organizer Chad Ardis, made this happen. Their top notch experience and service to our group couldn’t have been better! We are excited to announce that plans are in the works to make this an annual event and look forward to a great partnership!
Check out our photos from this event! South Carolina Bonfire
When the Warrior Bonfire Program began we simply wanted to give combat Veterans the ability to come together, hang out, do some hunting or fishing, and feel comfortable talking about anything they wanted to talk about around a campfire. We quickly learned the impact and that we were not just taking six guys out to hunt but we were convincing six guys not to kill themselves. Immediately we saw that we needed to keep the groups small to get the best outcome but as we progressed we began to see that we needed to be careful in order to sustain the integrity of the group. At the time, "stolen valor" was becoming rather common and we could not afford to be taken advantage. Our model of arranging retreats with activities all over the country can be an expensive one to be serving so few at a time but the outcome of true progress, healing, and growth for our veterans is powerful and proven to work.
There is no doubt that we wish we had an over abundance of funding to serve everyone from all theater's of war, but we simply don't. Therefore, we looked at how to focus our programs, to provide the best service we could with the resources available. The choice to serve post 9/11 Purple Hearts primarily came at the request of those we were currently serving as they felt most comfortable knowing that they would in fact be hanging out with other veterans that had been directly injured in combat. At the time many of them were frustrated by being placed in large groups with veterans that had never served in combat or even injured in combat. Yes, all of those that have served should be treated with respect, offered special opportunities, and be appreciated for answering the call but this group needs something more and different.
The trauma of being wounded at the hand of the enemy is where we focus our attention.
This designation provides three things
1 - It protects our donors as they know exactly who they are supporting.
2 - It protects the organization as we have the ability to request documentation to verify the receipt of the Purple Heart medal.
And most importantly
3 - It protects the veterans in the circle to know that the one sitting across from them completely understands
As an organization, we understand we can't do it all and that is why we work in partnership with other organizations that provide services for veteran families, veteran funding, connecting them with service dogs, combat veterans services, disabled veteran services and those that provide all sorts of specific healing activities. We also work very hard to not have an empty seat, last minute spots that open up due to unforeseen circumstances a veteran finds themselves in such as a VA appointment scheduled for them, a death in the family, or illness, we will use our database of non Purple Heart combat veterans with a 75% or higher VA rating, to fill that retreat spot, as we do understand that there are those that should have received a Purple Heart and did not. As a military organization we always look to support all military when possible as this pulls in a larger group of serving men and women that want to be involved to give back as well. In this effort we developed Jammin at the Bonfire, a musical program facilitated at VA's around the country and Hangin at the Bonfire, an event with a meal and a campfire to bring veterans together on a monthly basis.
To learn more on the path that our Purple Heart Veterans are on, read Purple Hearts Made of Gold
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 email@example.com
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!
WBP Team writers
Blogs are written by staff members of the Warrior Bonfire Program along with guest writers.