From the perspective of Bonfire 78 Retreat attendee, Purple Heart Frank Herbert.
When offered the trip to St George, South Dakota, I wondered what exactly a cattle ranch could offer me. Growing up in Texas, I wasn’t new to horses and cattle, so this wasn’t something new or novel for me. This was my first trip of any sort for veterans, much less wounded ones, and my mind conjured up a myriad of events that might take place. Thankfully none of those happened. What did occur was inspiring to say the least.
As many of you know, the Warrior Bonfire Program takes 6 or 7 wounded veterans, links them up with a trip, and lets the experience do the healing. Whether it’s fishing, winter adaptive sports or otherwise, the event speaks for itself. No such clarity for this trip, especially for me being on my first veterans outing of any kind.
The group arrived, with one coming in late…Google Maps directions don’t work too well in rural South Dakota. Several of us, myself included, were career servicemen and the rest had the desire to, but had their careers cut short by injuries. We also had one Vietnam veteran, which was educational for us. Utilizing the ranch guest house we settled in. This being the first time Warrior Bonfires had used the Majestic for a trip, there was going to be some ‘learn as we go.”
For me, I spent the better part of post 9/11 in senior leadership roles in the tank community enduring back to back deployments, setting aside my personal life (and family) for the more pressing need to make sure my Marines came home alive-an unrealistic expectation-and threw myself into this work. After a series of deployments and the combat that goes with tanks, sucking up the pain didn’t work anymore and I was denied reenlistment due to injuries. Staying busy meant not dwelling on things so I likewise threw myself into teaching JROTC for 8 years, working long hours until once again I had to stop to take care of my health. These experiences, I found, were not uncommon. Work has purpose, and once that stops, one is faced with the reality of examining oneself. Looking back on lost Marines, broken relationships, bad health and a myriad of other things, I’ve never thought much about the “What ifs” but more about “Was it worth it?”
That’s where the Majestic comes in. The Majestic Ranch sits in the rolling grasslands of far southeastern South Dakota, near the Missouri River and the Lewis and Clark trail. People out here on the ranches live according to the seasons, whether torrential spring rains or blizzards. All while raising cattle supporting the beef industry of America. But what does the Majestic have that made this trip so special? After all, there are Dude Ranches everywhere that cater to people who want a taste of cowboy life, and this is a working ranch.
The Majestic is a working ranch, running thousands of head of cattle. The Majestic Ranch is a business. Tony and Meghan Weborg are like many small business owners. From the time the get up to the time they go to bed (and probably while they sleep), the business end of the ranch is on their minds. We were collectively impressed with this end. How much fuel? How much meds to order? What’s the market forecast? Don’t forget about the weather. Business means reducing overhead so they do most of the work. With thousands of head of cattle, they only have two full time employees. The rest they do themselves.
Here, in what is normal for Tony and Meghan, their family, friends, and neighbors, we saw something special. Time for shots and branding of calves? Lets go to work. Friends and family showed up. The part we loved was the kids. The Weborg’s kids were all business. It was dirty, stinky work. Roping, throwing calves. Tagging, cutting, shots. They and their friends all but took over, with the “adults” there mostly for guidance. These kiddos knew how to work! All of us veterans had plenty of time in service, and none of us tolerated slackers and whiners, and only gave out “Atta boys” only grudgingly. We were to a person amazed at what we saw in these young adults. There was no griping-they made their own fun, accepting the work as something to be done. Polite, respectful. Trusted with the ranch truck. Independent. Seeing what needs to be done and doing it. Trustworthy. Boots off at the door. Yessir, nossir. Smiles all the time. These are all words I come up with as I don’t have the room to describe everything. Families together. Talk of how bad the spring rains were and all the news focused on the South.
What we saw was America. Hard working families. Great kids. People working together for the common good. All those clichés we hear are taking place in front of our eyes. Neighbors helping each other. All of us had been in the military for many years. Several of us for decades. The military life is a protective, insulated bubble. We protect America. We go in harms way. But we miss out in participating in what America truly is. On this trip, we got to see a small part of what America is.
While all of our stories are different, and we all took something different away, I think I can speak for all on one common thread. It WAS worth it.
Thank you to the Weborg family for hosting the Warrior Bonfire Program along with Majestic Ranch and Zivaro as retreat sponsors! Click here to see more photos!
At every Bonfire retreat the same thing occurs in the beginning, the six attending veterans are introduced as they arrive, they begin to ask the typical questions, what branch, where did you serve, where were you deployed, what was your MOS and did you know so and so? All these questions of course build commonality and understanding of each other’s experience level, on top of the knowledge that everyone there has been verified as a veteran that saw combat and was injured at the hand of the enemy, which ultimately plants the seeds of trust. “The ability to meet others that know what you have gone through, without even saying anything, is priceless,” commented Air Force Purple Heart, Shelly C.
However, at this particular event, the connectivity of this group was way beyond any we have seen before. This bond was indescribable. The difference, they came together and shared their pain, like always through the guidance of our retreat staff, but took it a step further and grew the support network well beyond the norm, as this group didn’t hold back any vulnerabilities. “We came together to share our stories of how we came to be and to show each other we were not alone and that as brothers and sisters of the Armed Forces we will always be here for each other,” stated Purple Heart Marcus R. The members of this group were from all walks of life, very different individuals with three common threads, the love of their service, the love of the military and their wounds from combat. Their specific struggles were met with love, understanding, and compassion.
The compassion was genuine and clean, not filled with pity, questions or judgment.
“As a parent, you are genuinely happy to see your children succeed on their own and fly from the nest, this is the way I felt about this group of veterans on this particular event. I was filled with joy to see the true bonds of friendship and support they found in each other and with such little help from the staff other than our group therapy introductions of subjects and sharing,” Helen Phillips Vice Present and Retreat Assistant. By the end of the weekend, at the Bonfire this group of combat warriors were literally connected arm and arm in a chain of support.
This retreat’s agenda, although challenged by very uncharacteristic snow on the second day of summer, offered additional down time for one of one conversations which played a huge role in this unique connectivity. Between golf at Fort Carson, fishing at Granby Lake up in the Rockies and a healing dip in the hot sulfur springs, this group created a true support network. We thank Granby Ranch for their hospitality and special treatment at The Granby Ranch Grill, the Rotary Club of Highlands Ranch for the golf sponsorship, golf lessons and welcome bags, Lane Meeks and Ken Jensen for the hosting fishing on Granby Lake and all our supporters for playing important roles in all we do. (Click here to see all our photos from this event)
WBP Team writers
Blogs are written by staff members of the Warrior Bonfire Program along with guest writers.