Well the Bonfire made it's way into Alabama, but just barely! Located on the boarder of Mississippi and Alabama folks could see our Purple Hearts darting back and forth, up and down between these two fine states. As guests of the AeroShell Aerobatic Team members, our Purple Heart Veterans got to experience the thrill of traveling roughly 300mph doing barrel rolls, cork screws, bursts and loops! This is a treat known to only a select few in this world and usually only one ride at that! Well not this crew! Each Veteran had several rides in various aircraft. With all the buzz in the air, area pilots that play in this arena began to "Fly In" to see what all the fun was about! Now we understand the true meaning of a "Fly In" Airshow!
The weather on a beautiful April afternoon could not have been more perfect which provided the safest possible environment to give our Purple Hearts this experience. The AeroShell Team are professionals that perform in airshows across the country throughout the year. They are in the International Council of Air Shows Hall of Fame for being the longest running civilian air show in North America for over 20 years. Needless to say, we felt that we couldn't have provided this type of opportunity in a more secure fashion than with this group of professionals.
The Warrior Bonfire Program is careful to only offer this type of opportunity to Veterans that have had a long period of time and healing post their injury. They are mentally and emotionally of sound mind and are not adrenaline seeking junkies. These are warriors that have found the place in their healing, that looking forward to the greatness life has to offer has become their therapy.
Every chance they can get to be around those most like themselves, to divide the pain and share the joy, gives them days to look forward to and not focus on the regrets or unfortunate events of the past which they cannot control. Soaring high above the Earth's surface and sometimes very low, the thrill and the chills, are enormously powerful, and provides a very conscious practice of letting go of things you cannot control. Everyday, Veterans with injuries have to choose to let go of the things they cannot control and focus on what they can control.
Back safely on the ground, this weekend also provided a pristine setting to relax, go fishing and get in a few rounds of clay shooting. The fluid schedule allowed time for the group to simply sit on the porch swing, share their stories, help each other through the struggles they share, and take in the Alabama sunrises and sunsets. Nature and conversations are among the most effective therapeutic practices being used today. As usual the power of the Bonfire on the final night provided closure and healing through the process of honoring those fellow service members these men have lost. Stepping out of yourself, thinking of others and giving to others helps to find peace and joy.
This is a trip that we hope to provide again and we are enormously grateful to the AeroShell Aerobactic Team, Mark Henley, Alan Henley, Jimmy Fordham, Steve Gustafson, Bryan Regan, Gene McNeely and their support team for a top flight weekend. We literally could not have done this without you! "It was a blast being with the guys this past weekend. I think they really enjoyed the experience. Hope we will be able to do it again in the future," stated Fordham. These weekends end up being just as therapeutic for the hosts as well as the Veterans.
To see more of the fun, check out our photos!
The Warrior Bonfire Program not only caught some big fish but more importantly caught some big smiles! All rigged up and ready for serious fishing this crew of Purple Heart Veterans did not disappoint. Aboard the beautifully and newly repainted Brain's Song vessel this group was given one on one deep sea fishing instruction and tips on how to reel them in. Captain and crew offered undivided attention, equipment, and lunch, which made the day perfect.
Having the opportunities on board to talk, breathe in some of nature's finest views, relax using some of the greatest treatment methods out there, and throwing in some excitement while pulling in a big fish, provides renewed joy, hope, and drive. An event like this may seem like just another day in the life for some but for men like these it can be a lifeline.
Taking in every opportunity, post realization of your own mortality, reminds you that daily struggles are all worth it. Every moment is a gift and a choice to see it as a gift. Our modern day heroes are getting these opportunities more and more, but it is still not near enough. This trip, we chose to open our door to a Vietnam Veteran with a Purple Heart as we had room at the last minute due to a cancellation of a post 9/11 Purple Heart. We wanted to see how the two generations mixed and mingled. Learning from those that have been living the journey for a long time is incredibly useful to the younger ones, but the outing proved something larger for this Vietnam Purple Heart Veteran, "The weekend was AWESOME! Thank you! It was one of the nicest thing I have got for my service in Vietnam since I came home," stated Richard Debevec.
Learning to cope and move forward every day is ACHIEVABLE!
At the Bonfire, we stop to remember, honor and pay tribute to the men and women our Purple Hearts have lost. Although a Bonfire can take place almost anywhere, the proper retirement of the American Flag is always held with respect and follows the process set by Congress. For a Purple Heart this part of our weekend gives them the chance to keep close those they lost, either during the time of their injury or after they were sent back home to heal. Survivors guilt is extremely difficult to manage and takes a tremendous amount of time and conversations till they find peace. One Bonfire cannot fully complete the process but it does in fact help to find normalization which in turn buys time for true healing.
On our last day in beautiful sunny Stuart, Florida we tried our skills and talents out on paddle boards! Thanks to the folks at Treasure Coast Paddle & Watersports for a guided tour and instructions.
The more we connect civilians to the military community, the more understanding there is and the better the foundation is set for future generations. There is so much that the average American civilian citizen doesn't understand about the lives our service members lead, pre and post war. "Every American citizen and every American company should be supporting a Veteran Care organization in appreciation to their selfless service.," Dan Fordice, founder of the Warrior Bonfire Program.
We would like to thank a few of the other local businesses that helped us put on a fantastic weekend in and around Stuart, Florida. Outback Steakhouse fed us well as did Castaways. West Marine set us up with a soft cooler for each Purple Heart, Best Western gave us a fine discount to rest our heads, and Wallace Auto Group donated a mini van to allow us one form of transportation to keep us all moving around together. Most of all we thank Captain Rick Sabarese for the use of Brian's Song and all the equipment. We can't do these trips without local support and donations! Thank you all!
To see more fun photos click here.
A huge thank you also goes out to our Board of Adviser members, Jim Bevacqua and Bob Alfeiri for organizing and leading this trip!
WBP Team writers
Blogs are written by staff members of the Warrior Bonfire Program along with guest writers.