We have experienced a whole new meaning of being “on cloud nine”! This past weekend, what was to be a day trip, turned into a surprising 27 hours of empowering brotherhood! Tuesday evening on March 8th, the Warrior Bonfire Program was offered the opportunity for six of our Purple Hearts to ride on one of two remaining WWII B-24 Bombers during a repositioning of the aircraft from Houston to San Antonio. We had two days to locate six Purple Hearts, out of the San Antonio area, along with an aircraft to first get them over to Houston for the return trip. Our friends over at the Veterans Airlift Command connected us with a private jet for all six passengers piloted by Glenn Peters with Custom Flights. They also connected us with new friends at Operation Comfort out of San Antonio that helped us fill the slots with their local veterans. We were all booked and registered within 24 hours!
The mission was simple, arrive at 0800 on Friday morning, fly to Ellington Airport in Houston, board the bomber and return by 1330! Upon arrival in Houston, our crew of six met various maintenance team members of the bomber and was given an incredible guided tour of numerous wartime aircraft. Up close and personal they were able to climb aboard, see the engines and hear stories of the aircraft's glory days. As the day progress and the tours ended a bit of uncertainty filled the air. All was quiet and movement was scarce. The bomber wasn’t appearing to be near ready to take off and our veterans found themselves hanging out in the hanger and sharing a few memories. As the day progressed, maintenance issues along with pre-purchased flights for locals wanting to fly in the B-24 had pushed back our timeline for return resulting in an overnight delay!
Back on the home front, WBP team members were scrambling and working diligently to stay in contact with all parties in order to assist our Purple Hearts with the best service possible in this situation. All the while, our six veterans stuck in the hanger, were experiencing a bit of magic. Not to our surprise as we have seen this time and time again on our Bonfire trips, these groups instantly begin to gel by telling of their stories, sharing lessons learned and reliving a bit of their own glory days of time in combat. The Bonfire happens all the time without the fire! The healing power of a challenge and working together to work through it in these small groups is amazing. These men being put in a situation of the unknown actually felt very familiar, triggered good memories and allowed them to use the skills in which they have all been trained.
It reminded them of being deployed! In a good way!
They pulled together, adjusted their plans at home and experienced a thrilling next few hours of camaraderie and brotherhood. The team at the WBP arranged for rental car transportation, dinner and hotel rooms not far from the airport. By the next morning at 0715 a report came through, “Made wakeup, got breakfast, and we are all standing by waiting at the airport, Hoorah! Army Strong!!” Why we on the home front were worried, is baffling!
Once airborne in the B-24, for these men the feeling was surreal. The lift of the large aircraft was surprisingly smooth and having the opportunity to step into the shoes of those that fought in WWII with these planes gave them insight and understanding as to the difference in the way we fight and protect today. They acted like they were boys when holding and maneuvering the machine guns, “hard to believe that they actually had to do it like that back then,” Steve Holden commented in reference to a shared video where he had to use his entire body to swing the gun towards his imaginary enemies. Experiencing a bit of history and imagery for something that you love and is a part of you is a time to cherish.
“This was pretty dang cool!”
Our appreciation for the opportunity goes out to the Collings Foundation which restores and tours these old warbird aircrafts and allowed us to fly with them this weekend. Visit their website to see how to schedule to take a ride. Also, we send many thanks to the Veterans Airlift Command for helping with this mission as well Operation Comfort. Lastly, a great big thanks to the Southern Heritage Air Foundation for keeping us connected to the aviation community! This proves that one organization alone cannot do it all by themselves. It takes all of us, working together, for the veterans that need our support.
Gone to Texas! The Warrior Bonfire Program has successfully invaded a new territory with our first of many Pig & Predator Hunts! As with all things Texas, this was BIG! Led and organized by one of our Board of Advisors, Ernest Clement, this event was a collective event of roughly 30 volunteers and donors from various parts of Texas.
The hospitality shown to our Purple Heart Veterans as part of the Warrior Bonfire Program was astronomical. The precision and efficient coordination of these remarkable volunteers was nothing short of pure professionalism. One would think they had been an operation like a military unit for years! Our Purple Heart guests took notice of all their hard work and felt that this example of “Thank you for your service” really meant something!
The gap between the civilian world and the military world became a topic over the weekend among our Purple Hearts. Part of the struggle and frustration they face daily is the lack of understanding among civilians of those that have served and those that have truly sacrificed for our freedoms. Being at an event that incorporated a large group of civilians, a few that are Veterans themselves, highlighted the fact that if the two groups never talk about the experience that our service members have encountered and help educate civilians, then the gap will remain to grow bigger and the bridge will need to be longer. This gap is an incredible problem in this country as many do not understand its impact. This weekend offered opportunities for questions to be asked and answered, leading to better understanding on both sides of the gap. Post Traumatic Growth in a different form!
As for the hunt itself, every Purple Heart got his pig and experienced a night guided hunt with trained dogs. One of our guides was Jeremy Spoerle, a post 9/11 Purple Heart, who has found his own form of therapy in raising and training guide dogs, as well as running them along with the help of his sons. This form of hunting was something new to almost every one of our Veterans. It may be hard to believe but being out in the night air, tracking and running down pigs, through the thicket and mud, created the powerful bond of brotherhood and reminded them of how much they miss the protection of one another. Watching out for one another and having each other’s backs is a comfortable feeling and practically comes as second nature to combat veterans.
During the daylight hours, if someone one was in earshot of our sporting clay shoot contests, one would think they were transported back to the Civil War! Rapid gun fire charged the air, the excitement, and the fun! This small competition added a familiar dynamic which again added to the overall camaraderie.
With all of our events we try real hard to feed them well and this trip more than measured up! Most of all the food was prepared by Big Rich Courville of Beaumont, TX. By the time the weekend ended we weren’t quite sure who the word “pig” was referring to! We thank Big Rich and his crew for all they did to keep us full! Along with all the yummies, we had a beautiful roof over our heads at the lake front home of Franklin Anding which provided a bed for all and plenty of space to host the troops. Our guides were top notch and professional and our operations crew could not be beat. In the words of one our Purple Hearts, Steve Holden, “This was absolutely the best trip and event!! I was completely shocked by the hospitality and friendliness that everyone displayed. Amazing!!”
The Warrior Bonfire Program looks to grow our efforts in Texas and we believe we have found the most energetic and giving group of people on the planet. We are happy and appreciative to Go To Texas, anytime! Beautiful Country and Beautiful People!
Please visit our website page to see all the fun and a list of those that helped make it possible. Click here!
When you see a reference to a Purple Heart such as the car tags or the highway signs that designate a stretch of road as a Purple Heart Trail or a Purple Heart Memorial Highway, do you stop to think what a Purple Heart really is or why the significance to memorialize? Why is this group that is made up of every military branch so special to have highways and universities designated in their name? Who are they and why should we care so much for them? By definition as Purple Heart is awarded to a military service member that has shed blood or suffered injury at the hand of the enemy on the battlefield. Now that is a very general statement as more and more of the injuries are now known to not always be visible, and the complete definition and requirements to be awarded this medal are incredibly detailed and long. Since 2001, roughly 57,342 Purple Heart medals have been awarded. Medals can be awarded multiple times, one for each injury sustained in different events and posthumously to the nearest relative of the recipient.
Slowly, we are seeing more and more organizations defining specific services for Purple Hearts, the reason being is that society as a whole is becoming more educated of the need to differentiate Purple Hearts and combat wounded veterans. The trauma experienced of being injured "at the hand of the enemy" creates an entirely unique response and reaction. Not to discredit injuries sustained in a combat zone and the devastating physical and psychological impact incurred, but knowing the enemy, whom you were supposed to defeat, took you out of the game directly or suspended you for a time, takes a toll that most of us can't recognize or fully understand.
For these men and women, they chose a path, a career and a goal. They had a plan and a purpose, like many of us do, but their plan and purpose was to be a part of something bigger than themselves and be a part of something that created significant change in the world. Incredibly most of them gave serious consideration to giving their life for our country but never anticipated coming home without arms, legs, vision, hearing, or a peaceful nights sleep.
They never anticipated having to rediscover or redefine their purpose.
A Purple Hearts' road to recovery is far more complicated as it can be filled with heavy amounts of anger, frustration, regret, denial, hopelessness, and drive. Fate seemed to be against them or they were "sucker punched" by an IED, either way it leaves them feeling as though the uphill battle is a mountain. It's simply tough, and not understood by many, and it's very isolating. Due to the lack of education about what this award means, many feel they have to prove the significance of their injury and most often decide it's not worth their time or breath, so they retreat from the crowd of Americans that they once defended.
For a Purple Heart, finding their path, their highway, their trail, their university...
These men and women have families that they desperately want to protect and provide for, and sometimes before they can find their new path, they need to heal, they need find themselves, they need to know and believe that the enemy can't take their soul and sometimes the only ones that can help them on this journey and self assessment are those that have walked in their shoes. Those that fully understand, don't need explanation or judge the rate of an individuals healing process. Peer to peer support has proven to be vital and in a world of "no man left behind" that support is dependable.
Don't misunderstand, pity is the most insulting emotion to have for a Purple Heart.
Veterans that have been awarded the Purple Heart, accepted the award, out of honor, pride and respect for their country. How could they refuse? It's an honor to receive but a conflicting one at that. This medal honors them for their service and sacrifice, for fighting and paying a life long price for the ones that survive. Many say, "it was awarded but not earned". The Purple Hearts were the ones that were saved in the particular battle that earned them the medal and not the ones that were being the hero or doing the saving of his battle brothers. At the time this medal was earned, they were the ones receiving the blows, they were the ones in the battle on the losing end. They personally were defeated at that time. Although the medal is earned for an event in their past, it is more of a medal to carry and become a badge of courage. Courage to move forward after the most devastating blow of their lives to this point. For them, the battle never ends, everyday is the same choice to serve and fight, to accept what they cannot change, but to have the courage to change what they can. The passionate warrior within wants more, they are restless until they achieve more, their time was not yet done and they must find their path. What they have seen and experienced sets them a part. They have faced either death or utter lack of control of everything around them. That experience once recognized, gives them a precious insight. An insight of what matters most, how to let go, how to find peace in that which you cannot control and most important how to move forward, daily. But this learned mindset takes time and growth, that which can be found by being around groups that simply listen, understand and encourage. Peer to peer support.
Once this knowledge is discovered, get ready to be amazed! These men and women set out with clear goals, goals that will create change, change for themselves, their families, their friends or an audience. Their pinned up passion is unleashed to help others! They have all seen the bottom and have no fear, they have all had to fully be humbled and helped. They have all had to experience total vulnerability. They all have to march on daily and go forth to do great things!
Their Purple Hearts melt away to expose their Golden Hearts!
WBP Team writers
Blogs are written by staff members of the Warrior Bonfire Program along with guest writers.