Warrior Bonfire Volunteer - John Heggins
Five years in a row Vicksburg, Mississippi's, Warren County Constable John Heggins has supported and organized one of our largest annual fundraisers, the Warrior Bonfire Program Annual Charity Clay Shoot in Mississippi. Every year he has worked tirelessly to find sponsors, corporate teams, volunteers and in kind donations, all with the goal of bringing in as many dollars as possible to serve our Purple Heart Veterans.
Years ago John saw an opportunity to bring together a multitude of his friends that were separated among competing sporting clay shoot clubs, these friends didn’t always see eye to eye so he pulled them together by getting them to work together on our sporting clay shoot fundraiser. His message to them was, “do the right thing and come together for a great cause and support our veterans that have sacrificed for us.” Through this message of unity this sporting clay shoot has become one of the largest in the state of Mississippi! During this time he has tweaked and refined the shoot to be more successful every year. The mantra is always to make more, spend less and put on a fun shoot that all levels of participants can get behind.
Along with John, our organizers for this year are Leigh Ann Vanlandingham, Sally Sheffield, and Lesa Wilson, with the help and assistance from Turcotte Shooting Range where the shoot will take place on April 13th in Canton, MS. There are many great people involved in support this team of organizers and we thank all of them for their work and support! To be a part of the extraordinary day as a participant, volunteer or sponsor visit our website event page at WarriorBonfireProgram.org/ClayShoot
Stronger Standing Together
Partnering with other Veteran Care Organizations just makes sense! Each entity bringing their resources to the table stretches the hard earned dollars that our donors and sponsors have given us, much further. When the other organization we are working with makes the statement that "it's all about the Veterans," we know we have a partner we can trust. Over the years there have been many, but there are a few that work with us on an ongoing basis.
Veterans Airlift Command
Sometimes we need help getting our members from far away places to an event. They have created a small army of private pilots across the nation who donate their time, fuel and planes to transport wounded veterans, who experience difficultly flying commercial, to various events. Mostly the service is used for medical care and therapeutic needs. We are grateful for their service and commitment to our wounded Veteran community.
Southern Heritage Air Foundation
AKA SHAF provides us a home base so to speak, located near Vicksburg, Mississippi where we were founded, this museum which keeps war birds flying and personal historic accounts of local WWII Veterans alive offers us storage and office space, provides amazing flights for our Purple Hearts in their T6 and P51, provides air transportation and raises funds for us every other year at their air show The Best Little Airshow in the World. They also help man many of our booths in the area as well as offer staff support at some of largest fundraisers with their awesome volunteers. Our unending thanks goes out to SHAF.
San Diego, California based organization that offers local veterans the opportunities to scuba dive, surf, fly, and build off road vehicles for competitive purposes also co-hosts an annual bonfire event on the beaches of Oceanside, California in September. This event offers us the opportunity to take individuals that rarely or never have been to California to camp on the beach, attend the airshow at Miramar and get lessons to surf the waves. In turn we have introduced WP to our network of organizational support and has grown to be an awesome partnership.
Whitetail Warrior Project, Inc.
This Alabama based group co-hosts us every year at Water Valley Lodge in Gilbertown, AL to put on a top notch deer hunt as one of our Bonfire events. During this venture they meet new members offering them the ability to build their network and reach while helping us to provide our service and offerings to our current member roles. Thankful for their support of service.
The Ranch Ministries
What a powerful organization this is as they serve military veterans in a variety of ways but always through the power of God. Each year The Ranch Ministries team hosts the WBP and our members that are confined to wheelchairs and they have worked to develop their property to break barriers that keep these Veterans from being truly in the hunt. Four years in a row we have been able offer a tremendous Pheasant Hunt and starting in 2019 we introduce Cajun Rodeo, which offers some fun in go carts, the shooting range, fishing and to experience a close up view of what Rodeo school looks like! The Cajun part now pulls in Wounded War Heroes of Louisiana who will provide the craw-fish!
10 Can Outdoors
Florida based organization that provides various programs for wounded veterans and first responders through retreats and classes that aim to empower these brave individuals and reintegrate them back into society with purpose. Their strong focus on post-traumatic growth, family unity and healing moral wounds through faith and family, makes them a perfect fit with our organization. In 2019 we will implement our first event with 10 Can Outdoors as they co-host and navigate our members in kayaks and canoes along the Suwanee River in north Florida.
REAch, Inc. Wounded Veterans Program
Resources Exchange Program has allowed us to introduce to our new and existing Purple Heart members with a toolbox full of new tools, shipped directly to their door, valued at $400 and zero expense to the veteran. Our collaboration centers around the mindset that we are both providing tools for the betterment of the veterans lives. Since 2018 over 100 toolboxes have been shipped to our members! For WBP this is a wonderful way that we can impact their lives immediately upon registering with us while they wait for a retreat event. For REAch, they are serving more which keeps their product only donors from Morgan Stanely and DeWalt engaged and encouraged to give back to those that served.
All of these organization supports our collective overall goals to effect change in the lives of our Purple Heart Veteran in three core areas...
-Live Life Free of Guilt
-Build Better Relationships
-Participate in Community
We are Stronger Standing Together!
To learn more or to donate visit us at warriorbonfireprogram.org
“Keep moving forward, keep moving forward” is the mantra for many of our Veterans who are experiencing the loss and reminders of their fallen brothers and sisters. Daily they search to find ways to fill the void of the empty chair all while managing the burden of reasoning and understanding of the outcomes of those horrific fateful days when they watched their friend die before their eyes. “Could I have done something different? Why him and not me? Man, I miss his jokes, he was the funniest guy I’ve ever known.” These are comments that we have heard often at the bonfire from Veterans struggling to make sense of it all.
Now we find ourselves facing a different spin, post combat days. For a good many of our Veterans, acceptance can be made of the loss of life during times of war and combat, but what doesn’t make sense to these combat veterans is the continued loss of life at home, on safer soil, due to suicide. We are finding more and more, that we encounter Veterans dealing with multiple brothers and sisters taking their own lives in recent years which creates a new need for the type of therapy we offer at Warrior Bonfire Program.
At each of our Signature Bonfires where we formally retire the American Flag we honor those fallen service members who died in (or shortly after) battle alongside the Purple Hearts attending our event, but more and more often we are hearing the names of those who lost the battle post battle. For warriors who live by “no man left behind” losing a buddy in this way eats at their protective nature creating a mindset of failing their brothers in some way.
At the Warrior Bonfire Program we don’t replace those buddies but we do fill the void. We are a network of brothers and sisters that are here when needed and when we are not needed. We offer peer to peer support as we understand and we will keep you strong. Learn more at warriorbonfireprogram.org
Encouraging our members to be the best version of themselves!
-Live Life Free of Guilt
-Build Better Relationships
-Participate in Community
“It seems I was just walking through life one day at a time missing the rush of life I use to have before I was injured. It felt so good to be around veterans who have been there and have moved to something better." This is a quote from Purple Heart Stephen Blair who attended our recent Pig Hunt Bonfire in Warren, Texas all the way from Alaska!
It’s hard for many to understand how attending a trip with people you don’t know, to hunt wild animals, could be therapeutic. Especially a hunt such as this one where they literally chase down and stick wild pigs, pigs that are greatly damaging property, preying on other animals all over Texas and are repopulating too quickly to control. Now not all our Veterans enjoy this which is why we offer all sorts of various activities, but for those that do, here’s how it goes.
Each of our attending Veterans are paired with a team of professional guides, they plan their mission, which direction to go, who on the team performs which duties and always cover the safety briefings with the reminder to be watching out for each other, having their backs. What does this sound like? The military missions performed by our Combat Veterans and the chance to once again revisit and experience that internal charge that is missing in their daily lives. In our seven years of operations, we have not heard once that any of our Veterans regret serving their country and almost all of them say they would do it again in a heartbeat. Also, remember, many of our members injuries began their process of discharge, changing their course of life and purpose forever.
Stephen was skeptical about traveling with the Warrior Bonfire or any other organization but this event he says helped to pull him out of slump he’s been in since he retired after 38 years of service. “It brought back the camaraderie and brotherhood I’ve been missing since I got out, made me feel part of something I use to have in the Army but lost once it was over. It felt good to be part of something again.” As Stephen traveled back home to Alaska he realized the awesome feeling and change of attitude he had and looked forward to his family’s reaction as well. "Thank you again from the bottom of my heart I truly appreciate it as well as my family will appreciate the change I feel!”
Thank you to all the great Americans in Southeast Texas that helped us to put on this event! Our hosts at Triple D Ranch Event Center in Warren, TX Judy and Cody Lewis, land owner Cody Stewart & guide teams, event organizers Justin Lewis and Stephen Maxwell, the cooking team of Victor Catalanotto, Wes Broussard, Kyle Lee, Byron Hlavinka, Kelby Bradley, Clyde Sory, and Coy Sewell, and the numerous other volunteers that made this operation run incredibly smooth!
Click HERE to see more photos!
Our founders hunt at Valley Park Plantation occurs just one time a year. It is our premier hunt and the opportunity for our Purple Heart members to have one on one time with our founders Dan and Hunter Fordice. The wait list for this hunt invite is long as many of our members look forward to the opportunity to thank personally those that started it all, it is also an opportunity for the founders to thank the individual veterans that have helped the Warrior Bonfire in return for what the program has done for them. This location is where the Warrior Bonfire Program began, where the idea was sparked and the focus on grouping small numbers together at a time to achieve the optimum environment needed to have some difficult, open communications among injured veterans. "You give me 5 or 6 others just like me, sitting around a campfire and that is all the therapy I need," stated Greg Williams in 2012. Since that time we have provided that very environment 68 times across 18 states, having grown from 4 events a year to 18 with a current goal of 24 per year. Thanks to our donors, sponsors, and volunteers we trust that we will get there very soon!
The Valley Park Plantation Founders Hunt certainly will make a hunter feel good with the beautiful scenery and the abundance of targets but as we like to say often, "it is not about the hunt!" "It doesn't matter how many deer we kill, what matters is the chance to honor our fallen brothers at the bonfire and spend time with others that understand that loss," Purple Heart Veteran Allen P. Our members have also reported that simply sitting quietly in the outdoors helps them to find peace in a life of struggles with managing symptoms from traumatic brain injuries (TBI), post traumatic stress (PTSd) and physical injuries. Learning the ability to quiet the mind and think of positive thoughts helps to curb unhealthy sleep habits that can lead to depression and thoughts of suicide.
At the Warrior Bonfire Program, we continually work to help our members to discover ways to better themselves, their support/family relationships and to find purpose that leads to productivity in their personal and local communities. Healing beyond injury is what we do! Please help us to spread the word for our most deserving veterans, those that have sacrificed for our freedoms.
We thank our partners and sponsors for making this possible but in particular, ESPN Out of Bounds The Zone Radio Show in Jackson, MS for raising $10 at the first Cornhole Classic, Patriot Motorsports and Valley Park Plantation.
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
WBP Team writers
Blogs are written by staff members of the Warrior Bonfire Program along with guest writers.