“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!
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!
Today marks the 5th anniversary of the very first Warrior Bonfire event at Valley Park, Mississippi, January 3, 2013. Tomorrow, January 4, 2018 we will kick off that same hunt and it will also mark our 50th Bonfire event overall. We have come a long way in five years growing from an average of 4 events a year to now 18. Our plan is to continue to grow with our events across the country as well as build the Bonfire Lodge at Camp Down Range in Clinton, MS and develop programs to take place there on a consistent basis for our Purple Heart Veterans.
In the later part of 2012, the vision of the Warrior Bonfire Program began to form in the mind of our founder, Dan Fordice, as he often looked for ways to serve and help his fellow veterans who suffered from injuries both physical and mental. Dan served for a total of 13 years between the U.S. Army and the Mississippi National Guard and it is truly his passion to find resources and connections to relieve any possible obstacles.
Dan found himself in a conversation with SFC (RET. USA) Charles Gregory Williams, who sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury when a Rocket Propelled Grenade struck and exploded a 50 Cal ammunition box two feet from his head and was later medically retired in November 2011 for wounds received while in combat. Greg commented that he could spend a full day with a PhD certified counselor and not come close to the therapeutic value of sitting around a bonfire with five or six guys who were there. Dan quickly responded, “We will provide the bonfire!”
Finding this new purpose to fulfill his passion, Dan began putting in place the structure to build environments that would be most beneficial to our Purple Heart recipients. On the eve of December 30, 2012, Dan organized a small event with family and friends on the sandbar bank of the Mississippi River, with dinner, music and a bonfire. It was then he announced his plans as we gathered around the fire and introduced many of us to the formal retirement of our tired and tattered American Flags. It was then that the Warrior Bonfire Program began.
Dan jumped on putting together trips and bonfires faster than you could light a match. He pulled resources from family and friends, for the use of hunting clubs, transportation, food donations, and more. Each trip continues to build more structure and organization as well as build the fire in our hearts to light the way.
Now the Bonfire has traveled and spread to twenty states, with nearly 250 members being served through various support programs such as Jammin at the Bonfire, Hangin at the Bonfire, Hangin with Heroes, Peer to Peer support program known as the Ambassador Program and our signature Bonfire Adventure events. The Warrior Bonfire Program is recognized by the Combined Federal Campaign, the R4 Alliance, Guidestar Silver, America’s Warrior Partnership, and Great Non-Profits Top Rated organization for three years in a row.
We thank all of our supporters, donors, partners and volunteers for all of their hard work and belief in our programs to keep our Purple Heart Veterans moving forward and striving for a full life.
Join Our Mission and Ignite the Bonfire with continuous support of $15 Monthly
The success of 2017 is truly a reflection of our donors and partners. Without you we couldn't have:
Increased our membership by 50%
Added 18 more events to our records
Visited 14 different states
Actively served 108 Purple Heart Veterans
Supported our membership of nearly 250
Your commitment of an ongoing monthly donation of $15 offers the Warrior Bonfire Program the ability to plan future events and give our Purple Heart Veterans that are struggling from their injuries sustained in combat, more opportunities to:
Find support to combat self medication
See hope in the future
Find a new purpose beyond service
Join Us to IGNITE the Bonfire!
"Remember, you're not just sending six guys hunting, you're convincing six guys to not kill themselves."
~ Purple Heart Greg Williams
SUPPORT the BONFIRE
for $15 a Month
When the Warrior Bonfire Program began we simply wanted to give combat Veterans the ability to come together, hang out, do some hunting or fishing, and feel comfortable talking about anything they wanted to talk about around a campfire. We quickly learned the impact and that we were not just taking six guys out to hunt but we were convincing six guys not to kill themselves. Immediately we saw that we needed to keep the groups small to get the best outcome but as we progressed we began to see that we needed to be careful in order to sustain the integrity of the group. At the time, "stolen valor" was becoming rather common and we could not afford to be taken advantage. Our model of arranging retreats with activities all over the country can be an expensive one to be serving so few at a time but the outcome of true progress, healing, and growth for our veterans is powerful and proven to work.
There is no doubt that we wish we had an over abundance of funding to serve everyone from all theater's of war, but we simply don't. Therefore, we looked at how to focus our programs, to provide the best service we could with the resources available. The choice to serve post 9/11 Purple Hearts primarily came at the request of those we were currently serving as they felt most comfortable knowing that they would in fact be hanging out with other veterans that had been directly injured in combat. At the time many of them were frustrated by being placed in large groups with veterans that had never served in combat or even injured in combat. Yes, all of those that have served should be treated with respect, offered special opportunities, and be appreciated for answering the call but this group needs something more and different.
The trauma of being wounded at the hand of the enemy is where we focus our attention.
This designation provides three things
1 - It protects our donors as they know exactly who they are supporting.
2 - It protects the organization as we have the ability to request documentation to verify the receipt of the Purple Heart medal.
And most importantly
3 - It protects the veterans in the circle to know that the one sitting across from them completely understands
As an organization, we understand we can't do it all and that is why we work in partnership with other organizations that provide services for veteran families, veteran funding, connecting them with service dogs, combat veterans services, disabled veteran services and those that provide all sorts of specific healing activities. We also work very hard to not have an empty seat, last minute spots that open up due to unforeseen circumstances a veteran finds themselves in such as a VA appointment scheduled for them, a death in the family, or illness, we will use our database of non Purple Heart combat veterans with a 75% or higher VA rating, to fill that retreat spot, as we do understand that there are those that should have received a Purple Heart and did not. As a military organization we always look to support all military when possible as this pulls in a larger group of serving men and women that want to be involved to give back as well. In this effort we developed Jammin at the Bonfire, a musical program facilitated at VA's around the country and Hangin at the Bonfire, an event with a meal and a campfire to bring veterans together on a monthly basis.
To learn more on the path that our Purple Heart Veterans are on, read Purple Hearts Made of Gold
The Bonfire Ruck is a new yearly Warrior Bonfire Program fundraising and awareness campaign designed to raise awareness of the rise in Veteran Suicide and the challenges of PTSD. It is our hope that adventure seeking individuals that want to help make a difference and have a passion for bettering the lives of our combat wounded veterans, will accept extraordinary challenges to complete for the purpose of drawing attention to our mission.
The Bonfire Ruck can happen almost anywhere at anytime. This year, starting October 16th, 2017, two U.S. Marines will walk the entire width of the state of Mississippi. The challenge is 155 miles from the Alabama state line to the Mississippi River in Vicksburg, MS. The goal is to complete it in five days, weather permitting. (Link to support website page)
The Bonfire Ruck is easily duplicated in any region or adventure, and funds raised will go directly to benefit the Warrior Bonfire Program to fulfill the mission. At the Warrior Bonfire Program we attack the the major fundamental problems sighted by the Purple Heart Veterans that have attended our programs, isolation and self-medication. Both of these issues are directly linked to PTSD and Suicide.
Our programs and retreats are designed to set the example and expectation to our Purple Hearts and combat veterans to push hard to battle these bad habits. We show our veterans how to pull out of isolation by going on our retreats and trust being around those just like themselves to find support. While at our program events, alcohol and non-prescription illegal substances are not permitted, again offering the ability to experience time not using those crutches while being surrounded by support of their peers. For some, the initial realization of this is a bit shocking but with the support of everyone present, they see it is very doable. The small group of six is the game changer that makes us unique and successful.
If you're interested in doing a Bonfire Ruck whether it be climbing Pikes Peak, walking the Appalachian Trail, kayaking the Mississippi River or wherever you love to be, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn about our Bonfire Ruck: Between the Lines
#BonfireRuck #PTSD #VeteranSuicidePrevention
Escaping “The Trap” is what we do at the Bonfire and our last trip highlighted that this is an answer to the growing problem. Kentucky is officially now, an annual Bonfire destination! This trip provided the perfect mix of activities from sailing, fishing, sporting clays, boating and swimming with much needed down time and relaxation. Sometimes our events can be a bit rigorous with a tight itinerary to keep our Purple Hearts moving but we are finding the trips that allow for more time to chill and talk, while in the outdoors, are most beneficial trips. Board of Director member Lloyd Munn, who assisted on this event when asked of his experience stated strongly and with conviction, "this is the REAL deal!"
The common theme here was the conversation of how to keep combat injured veterans from withdrawing and being alone. As Purple Heart David Connelly stated, “guys isolating themselves is never safe.” Very often on these trips we hear comments such as, “getting all up in your head is a trap” or “I just sit in my workshop and only come out to eat”. This is why we do what we do at the Warrior Bonfire Program; we give them the opportunity, at no cost and little effort, to get out of these dark places. We show the example of how to physically get moving, we give them the connections to call each other and go! It is our goal that over time, these men and women will find strength in this practice and take it home to their families, fellow veterans, and communities.
Another area of discussion and that our participants feel the need of more attention, is that more and more we are learning that Veterans are choosing to self-medicate rather than risk going to the VA’s and being prescribed medication that have the zombie like side effects. Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol coupled with isolation is incredibly dangerous. As the suicide rate among veterans continues to be higher than any other demographic, we need to focus on solutions.
The Warrior Bonfire Program believes that solution is exactly doing what we do. Showing the example to get out, be a part of a community, go new places, try new things, be around peers that will tell you and set an expectation to be better, make better choices, be healthier and choose living large rather than living lonely. The network of the Brotherhood is out there.
We thank all those of the Grand Rivers, KY community for their support and generosity by providing fishing, sailing, live music entertainment and their “unbridled spirit!”
Click Here for Photos of the trip!
Introducing the National Whitetail Warrior Project, an organization made up of some the best people Alabama has to offer! This past week we came together to host eight Purple Heart Veterans on a three day hunt at Water Valley Lodge in Gilbertown, Alabama. Our connection was made through an introduction of one of our Board of Advisor members, USAF Colonel Paul Nelson, as he saw a new organization with services to offer and another with vetted members that needed an opportunity to come together at the Bonfire.
A perfect fit that has a strong future ahead.
Veterans from Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia attended the first event for the NWWP as members of the Warrior Bonfire. We were treated to good food, beautiful terrain and a straight up high class Alabama lodge, complete with a perfect game room. The hunting was solid and our guys left with plenty of deer meat for tables across the Southeast this holiday season. But this hunt was more about a greater good than just a hunt. This was about being an example of why many organizations are needed versus just a few large organizations. Individually we fill needs on our own communities, we consistently touch and change lives in a personal way and resources sometimes don’t stretch as far as we need. When we come together and bring our strengths to the table, we educate more and we serve more. Because of this particular partnership the Warrior Bonfire Program will be able to offer more hunts for our alumni members and the National Whitetail Warrior Project will be able to rely on our ability to vet members for these hunts through our online registration and rule of prior travel on non-firearm events prior to attending a hunt.
We are so very grateful for this Bonfire hosted by the NWWP and are privileged to be a partner! Thank you to all that donated to make this event possible and to the Water Valley Lodge for their highly discounted rate. “Good People” as stated by several of the veterans that attended.
Please visit our Gallery to see more.
Thank you to all those that supported and donated to make this event a reality!
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.