If you have ever had a true traumatic experience that you believe in your heart of hearts is unique to you and there is no one on the planet that can understand or relate, well then this story is for you, to show you that you are way wrong!
Recently on one of our retreat events two of our Purple Hearts were given the opportunity to come face to face with someone that completely understood their trauma, injury, and recovery process. Retired U.S. Army SSG Brian B. and CPT David I., in December 2018 at our 67th Bonfire in Johnson's Bayou, LA, began to share with each other how they each became amputees. As their stories unfolded they were amazed to learn that they each had been sitting in the same type of vehicle in the same seat with their leg under the radio mount, when IED blasts changed their lives forever. Although they were in different locations in Afghanistan on different dates, the resulting injuries, fears, anxieties and recovery paths were the same. Each men having lost their leg in the same way gave these two Purple Heart Veterans a connection and bond forever.
"I have never met anyone that was injured in the same way I was, it was really neat to hear David saying the same things I was. I can't explain it but it was just amazing!" Brian B., Purple Heart Army
At the Warrior Bonfire Program our retreat events for post 9/11 Purple Heart Veterans are geared towards providing small groups of 6 at a time, the ability to be with those like themselves. Those combat veterans whose direction in life was changed, whose career path ended, and whose will to live was tested and in some cases still tested daily. Please share our stories and help us serve more, it's the least we can do in return for their sacrifice.
Although sleeping in a hammock by a rushing stream is relaxing and awesome, it's not really practical for every night and is bad for the back. Sleep disorders among veterans is very common and the more you learn exactly where your issues lie you can begin to discover targeted treatment options to achieve a better nights sleep. Over 74% of the veteran community have reported having difficulty sleeping and that percentage is higher among those with TBI's and PTS(d). A lack of sleep can lead to numerous other health issues creating a domino effect with catastrophic outcomes, depression and suicide being among those. Take the time to focus on learning more and trying some new techniques for better sleep by reading Common Sleep Disorders in Veterans and How Does Trauma Affect Sleep?
Everyday at the Warrior Bonfire Program along with many other Veteran Service Organizations (VSO's) similar to us, are working diligently to lower the rate of suicides among our nations service members. Please share to help us spread information that will better their lives. It's the least we can do to repay our gratitude for signing the blank check with their lives.
Photo credits to Dane Deaner at danedeaner.me
A few weeks ago we conquered our first canoeing event near Grand Junction, Colorado on the Gunnison River. Our Western Slope Canoe event proved to be a success although it was a bit a challenging, but one that was welcomed! One thing that was not a challenge was the local support we had to make this event take place. Six Colorado Rotary Clubs (Denver, Castle Pines, Highlands Ranch, Highlands Ranch Satellite, Vail & Westminster) came together to raise funds and organize this event which is not only a tremendous gift for our Purple Heart Veterans but to our staff as well! “Having this kind of support around a specific event helps our small team to focus on other needs and event which allows us to do more and serve more” Vice President Helen Phillips of Warrior Bonfire stated, “the event host and leaders Marty Genereux and Connie Golas, both from the Rotary Club of Highlands Ranch, where a joy to work with!”
The event consisted of three days and two nights on the river. Canoeing most the day and camping at night all guided by Brooke Ranney (owner), Ginger Oviatt and Peter Lindstrom of Centennial Canoe Outfitters. The logistics, food and equipment were all perfect and likely a reminder to our veterans of their military movement and missions working as a team. We have found that events in this type of structure create a sense of normalcy from their time in service. Encouraging each other to persevere through the many miles of rowing, which was the challenge, but one they all succeeded. A total of 31 miles completed overall!
In between the hard work was a bit of fun like hiking in the majestic canyon landscape, learning about petroglyphs, seeing big horn sheep and having some astronomy lessons by Ginger. Did you know you can play a cross between Pictionary and Charades using lasers on the side of the rock formations? Who knew right? All this is great but as always the most valuable and much needed is the peace and quite. For those that struggle with traumatic brain injuries and PTSD, this time is much needed and encouraged.
Quiet the Mind!
Marty Genereux, event host shared “I was happy to see that most of them had moved past their demons of drugs, alcohol or isolation” however this might seem to be the case, the mission to keep those at bay is ever present. “Events like these help them find support to keep up that fight to get healthy and stay healthy,” stated President Mike Foss. “I didn’t know that I really needed that until I got there. I’m in a much better place than I was before. So thanks!” This quote by Army Combat Veteran SGT Wayne Mathews is music to our ears and something we have heard from so many others in the past.
Take a moment to look at all our Bonfire 59 Western Slope Canoe Experience Photos! We sincerely thank all the members of the following Rotary Clubs for helping this dream become a reality and for supporting our veterans through their lifelong challenges!
The common theme and lessons learned from this recent Bonfire event in Granby, Colorado was a real focus that we must live our lives to the fullest and take advantage of the time we have been given. As combat wounded veterans that all have received the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in combat at the hand of the enemy, that lesson is a little tougher to come by than for most because for every thought of seizing the day they are reminded of the price they had to pay to gain such knowledge. The loss of those that fought beside them, the loss of a limb, the loss of a career, the loss of peace and quiet as their minds sometime never stop. However, we had special guest this weekend retired Army Colonel Mike Peffers who shared his story and insight from his experience with stage 4 cancer. Peffers pleaded with these men to live each day to the fullest. One of these Purple Hearts summed it up by saying, “that as hard as life gets and who and what we’ve lost, we have to keep fighting, fight to live and never give up...always remember, never forget but keep moving forward to complete our mission. We all have a purpose. We’ve lost brothers and have had our good share of problems but we’re alive, take advantage of what we have.” This mindset carried on throughout the weekend ahead while soaking in the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains!
“I’m not done with this life yet.” ~ Purple Heart Recipient
This group tore it up when fishing on Grand Lake, golfed like pros at Granby Ranch Golf Club, chilled in some kayaks thanks to Mountain Paddlers, and managed to get in a little hiking. With all this activity we had quite a few civilians that helped us with throughout the event and were introduced to our mission and the Veterans. As we have seen many times this interaction creates positive change and understanding as people in general want to help, they want to understand and support, but many don’t know how. The very best way to help is to build an event in your local area by finding support from various individuals or companies. Colorado folks have been generous year after year to the Warrior Bonfire Program and while visiting we invited Doug Smith, Director of Impact for Zivaro, formerly known as GTRI to come out and see firsthand how their future partnership with the WBP will impact the lives of those that have sacrificed for our freedoms. Once again building the connections between military and civilians will only better the lives of all involved.
Kevin Prior volunteers for the Warrior Bonfire Program in the area of Business Development and he served this past weekend as Staff Support along with Rob Bingham of Excel Energy and the Colorado Veterans Project, both witnessed many of the great qualities our Purple Heart Veterans hold, “These veterans are all humble as all get up. Regardless of what they’ve been through, they always find a way to laugh and recognize others. Their stories belong to them and it’s incredible they can share with like minded warriors, this program makes that happen.” Prior stated. They also recognized that humor among this group was used not only to poke fun at each other but also as tool to communicate some underlying issues which opened the door to more impactful conversations which led to this following comment,
“that as hard as life gets and who and what we’ve lost, we have to keep fighting, fight to live and never give up...always remember, never forget but keep moving forward to complete our mission. We all have a purpose. We’ve lost brothers and have had our good share of problems but we’re alive, take advantage of what we have.”
Once again, thank you to all those that donate and support our mission and our Veterans, especially the following companies along with videographer Jen Burch. We can't do these events without you! Click here to see Photos from Bonfire 57
Our most recent Bonfire event took place in the sunshine state of Florida and of course the cool things we always plan to do there take advantage of the sun and fresh air. This is our 3rd Annual event in Stuart, Florida organized and executed by Board of Adviser member Jim Bevacqua and retired Major Bob Alfeiri. Their superior planning and leadership can withstand any storm and this year that was put to the test! We had a few hurdles due to Mother Nature’s wrath that brought in the doom and gloom but when you’re with a group of Purple Heart Veterans that have met adversity head on, time and time again, a little rain and rough seas will not bring them down.
Bonfire #56, Florida Cast n’ Putt, Stuart, Florida offers our guest a day of deep sea fishing and golf at the beautiful Jonathan's Landing Golf Club. Local sponsors roll out the red carpet hosting our group to dine in their eateries, use golf equipment at no charge, offer hands on fishing instruction along with tips and simply show that this group of Purple Hearts are appreciated for their service and sacrifice. In between all the love the group has time to do what is needed the most, visit among themselves to offer peer to peer support in areas of VA navigation, advice on battling Veteran isolation, encouragement to steer clear of unhealthy addictions and guidance on dealing with the demons from the battlefield.
“These trips help me open up and gives me that feeling of camaraderie again.” Purple Heart Jeffery T.
Mother Nature may have turned our deep sea fishing to river and shallow water fishing as well as our 18 holes of golf to 9, but the part she really played was giving this group the time they needed to talk, laugh, cry, find support and shine a light on what’s important. “These events help me to clear my mind and gives me a fresh days look on life” stated Purple Heart Scott A, in attendance. The skies cleared in time for our signature Bonfire ceremony to retire the American flag in honor of their fallen brothers with special guest, on his way through town, our Founder Dan Fordice.
Please take time to check out all our photos and recognize the following sponsors below that helped make this Bonfire happen. A special thanks to local organizers and leaders Jim Bevacqua and Bob Alfeiri, we can't do this one without them!
THANK YOU TO OUR SPONSORS
Lake Sam Rayburn in Texas was the spot to be last weekend! Our small gatherings of Purple Heart Veterans always click right away but this group gelled so well unlike any other we have seen so far. The most common response from them all was, “It was awesome!” Yes they were talking about the bass fishing and the group of local guides, but that wasn’t all! “Being around guys that have been in the same mud as me is something special,” stated Purple Heart Golden, in reference to meeting a brother Purple Heart that served in the same area at the same time as he did in Afghanistan. Those two already have plans in the next few weeks to go fishing some more.
This bass fishing trip offered a variety of pluses. One, the fish were biting. “I have never been on a bass fishing trip like this. I probably caught close to a hundred and I have been fishing since I was knee high to a grasshopper!” Golden excitedly exclaimed. Two, thanks to the fantastic instruction of the guides, taking them to the secret spots, teaching them tricks, and letting them work at their own pace proved to be beneficial. Our groups are small so we can provide experiences of one on one time with our volunteers. While a good chunk of time is spent just among the Veterans, this veteran/civilian interaction creates a different kind of healing. A healing that includes knowledge that those you fought to protect actually do care and appreciate your sacrifice. Volunteers of the Warrior Bonfire are special to us and they understand not to judge, ask questions or pry into the hearts and minds of our members. Finally three, this interaction again creates a bridge of trust and pride in the work our Veterans did to protect our freedoms. Because of these opportunities our members are offered invitations to come back and reconnect often, with or without the organization, which proves our claim that we are working to build their network of support. “It’s awesome, they all want to be our friends and have us back!” Purple Heart Sam R.
Here is a list of the great Americans that came together to help the Warrior Bonfire this past weekend! We thank you for your time and commitment. Take a moment to check out our photos!
Cory & Aleena Rambo
THANK YOU TO OUR PARTNERS THAT MADE THIS EVENT POSSIBLE!
Once again our team of Purple Hearts and support staff successfully completed 100% of the 26.2 miles of the Bataan Memorial Death March! Held through the high terrain at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico every year, this course presents quite a challenge, trudging through deep sand, with an elevation starting at 4300 feet with an additional gain of 1650 feet. All of this is done along with 8300 of your closest friends.
So many participants along the way march for various reasons in addition to honoring those who lost their lives or survived the actual WWII Bataan Death March, and one of our very own Warrior Bonfire Purple Heart members was one of those who achieved a great personal goal here at the memorial
march. Ned Mitchell in 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq sustained injuries from an IED blast that took the lower portion of his left arm and inflicted extreme nerve damage to his lower legs and feet resulting in little to no feeling. He was told he would likely never walk again ten years ago. Yet here he is completing the Bataan Memorial March! A great example of drive and perseverance, never quit attitude, always carrying a smile with some jokes, and not taking for granted one bit of the sacrifice of our fallen brothers and the freedoms they secured for us as a nation of American citizens.
“An awesome group of men, I’m not often moved by people but these guys left me completely humbled and amazed.” G. Phillips, WBP volunteer support staff marcher.
In addition to Mitchell's' story and the normal difficulties such as, aches, pains, exhaustion, and blisters that come with a marathon march our team seemed to want to make it tougher by contracting the flu, walking pneumonia and a possible torn meniscus! Why not go all in?! However, each and every one of these marchers will tell you that pains, illnesses and all do not even come close to what those men endured in the real Bataan Death March – the 66 mile march to Camp O’Donnell in the Philippines during WWII when Imperial Japan forces captured 76,000 American and Filipino POW’s which began on April 9, 1942. The memorial march is conducted in honor of the heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II, sacrificing their freedom, health, and, in many cases, their very lives.
“Why I did the march?…I have a love for life, love and freedoms, which is why I went into battle again and again, but I marched mostly to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and stood for the same beliefs I have.” M. Bessler, Purple Heart & Marcher
This Bonfire event creates a team environment unlike most of our retreat events, it presents very different emotions, challenges and successes. Every year it leaves those Veterans in attendance with the familiar yet sometimes forgotten, feeling of being connected to something that is greater than themselves, the collective population of those that have worn the uniform throughout our American history of war and conflict. It gives them a look at just how far we have come as a nation and that they played a part in securing and continuing our history even though their injuries changed their course unexpectedly.
Here's to continued growth and leadership from our Veterans!
Make sure to click here to check out our photos from this Bonfire event!
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!
WBP Team writers
Blogs are written by staff members of the Warrior Bonfire Program along with guest writers.