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!
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!
USMC RETIRED Isaac McCorkle recently attended one of our events, and like many of our Veterans is passionate about helping his brothers and sisters combat Veteran suicide. He wrote the following to those that he met through the Warrior Bonfire Program and allowed us to share. The hope is that the message finds its' way to fellow Veteran that needs to hear it.
Suicidal ideation at times are normal human reactive thought processes. Having these thoughts is a reactionary thought process driven by our present disposition and the conditions in our environment.
It is a human problem and anyone in the right or wrong circumstances will develop these symptomatic thoughts.
We have all felt fear, anger, hurt, sorrow, passion, excitement, despair, pain, anguish, loss, but these emotionally based reactive thought processes are temporary if we take the appropriate counter measures.
If we allow fear to go unaddressed, anger to boil unreleased, resentment to fester, we do not avoid the symptoms but live among them and are controlled by them.
When we talk about our fears and tribulations we realize that we are not alone. When we take a chance and push past stigmas and conventions we are able to recognize our vulnerability our humanity.
There is nothing wrong with being angry or afraid. It is when emotions go unaddressed that they cause unmanageable symptoms. Only when we voice our fears can we develop appropriate counter measures to address our vulnerabilities.
Understand, that these thoughts are products of our environment, experience sets, and are the normal products of our cognitive sentient thought processes.
When we understand that these thoughts are simply normal and we address the issue, we can help mitigate the harshness of the emotions that cause the symptom.
In our own minds and in society we have to dispel the unwarranted stigma that pervades this issue. By talking about this issue we can educate people as to the normal emotional thought processes and stressors that lead to suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
As long as the stigma continues to cause this issue to remain largely misunderstood or unaddressed, we will continue to suffer the symptoms of socially driven emotional obfuscation...
Unattended issues often lead to uncontrollable consequences...
Talk to each other. Crush the unwarranted stigma that is causing so much unnecessary loss of love and talent.
For the second time we wrapped up the year end with a hunt in Gilbertown, AL at Water Valley Lodge! This hunt experience always proves to be a dream weekend, with good hunting, good food, fantastic lodging and solid Veteran support all around. This year, three organizations came together to pull their resources to provide a weekend hunt with all the frills. Along with the Warrior Bonfire Program providing access to our Purple Heart members, the Whitetail Warrior Project, Inc. provided lodging and food with the help of Water Valley Lodge and the Southeast Experience crew came in with guides. All coming together, with one goal in mind, to provide the best we have to offer during the holiday season for our Purple Heart Veterans, those that have sacrificed for our freedoms.
Our Bonfire ceremony is reserved mostly for our Purple Heart Veterans but there are times that we invite others to fully understand the power and magnitude of the act of retiring the American Flag. This retirement also includes the naming of those brothers or sisters in service that were lost in battle, giving our members the opportunity to honor and memorialize those that often were responsible for saving the life of the Veteran still in our presence. This act cannot be done enough, as they are forever in our hearts and minds. The impact this ceremony has on those attending is always one that squeezes the heart with an intensity that leaves you weak in the knees and emotionally drained. Hearing the names of fallen heroes echoing in the night, aching to grab hold of their memory and pulling them back, is completely gut wrenching but soothing at the same time. For those that were there, they live the reality everyday, with the questions racing through their minds...
What could I have done differently?
Should it have been me?
Why was it not?
If I could only switch places?
I don't feel lucky at all....
We wanted the guides who were all military, to know what we were truly about and to understand fully what their time and commitment of being there meant to all of us. It is up to us, those that work with veteran care organizations, those as members, to educate and build a bridge of understanding to create deeper healing, growth and support for future generations.
See photos from this event here!
Thank you to our partners that made this opportunity amazing!
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
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!
On September 11, 2017, two schools in opposition on the field and courts came together for a greater cause, in honor of first responders and military service men and women. Presbyterian Christian School of Hattiesburg, MS and Jackson Academy of Jackson, MS not only competed Monday evening in volley ball, soccer and softball, but they brought the competition to a higher level.
Playing sports is wonderful for many reasons such as team building, health, mental training, and competition, but in addition to these, the best reason to play sports is for the life lessons that are taught. Playing or working for something bigger than yourself, like many of our first responders and military do everyday.
Coaches Jacob Morgan and Christina Lawrence, along with PCS Athletic Director, Josh Dorman, led the charge to pull together a fundraising operation where both schools sold over 275 shirts and all proceeds went to the Warrior Bonfire Program. As part of Patriot Day at Presbyterian Christian School, shirts designed with a 9 on the front and an 11 on the back displayed with "Never Forget", were sold to students and parents, raising $2,000 in support of our Purple Hearts. Local vendor American Graphics partnered with the operation to offer high quality shirts at an extremely low cost allowing the schools to donate all proceeds.
Patriot Day consisted of a morning Pep Rally, where education of the events of 9/11 was presented, a moment of silence, and local firefighters, policemen, and military were honored. Also, at all events on campus, volleyball, soccer and softball, again recognition was given to local first responders and military.
In attendance on the behalf of Warrior Bonfire Program was Lloyd Munn. Not only is Munn a popular local musician in Hattiesburg and father of a PCS alum, but he serves on our Board of Directors and organized our ever growing and energetic, Jammin at the Bonfire, program. Munn had just returned that day from assisting on the Warrior Bonfires' 43rd signature Bonfire event held in Grand Rivers, Kentucky. Munn shared his experience and witness of his time with six Purple Heart veterans over the weekend. Munn summed it up with, "it's the real deal!"
The Warrior Bonfire Program is extremely honored to have been chosen to benefit from this awesome display of support. We thank all those that organized and participated! Being that we serve Post 9/11 Purple Hearts, those that truly stepped up to battle the evil that changed American lives forever, this gesture touched our hearts.
If we do not show our young Americans that we support those that keep us safe in return for their service, why would they ever consider stepping up to serve and protect.? They are our future!
Our first Bonfire in Utah has been burned and we hope this particular fire will spread! Unlike the wildfires that this part of the country typically has to fight, our Bonfire creates life and healing. Our stay at Sportsman’s Paradise at Whites Ranch in Paradise, Utah provided the optimum spot for “Reel Recovery”! Our Purple Heart Veterans were welcomed to fly fish at any time of the day at this catch and release facility which provided unbelievable peace from the enormous stresses and anxieties of the world.
"This is an great facility and is perfect what we are trying to do at our Bonfire events." Purple Heart WBP Ambassador Stacey Rice
Along with great peace we found empowerment through the message of Adapt and Overcome as we blazed trails through the mountains on horseback! Due to the generosity of Utah State Universities’ Extension services and their Ride Utah program, the Warrior Bonfire veterans had two days of trail rides with horses particularly matched with the veterans’ needs. The time and care taken to match horse to veteran, created a safe environment that fostered trust and comfort. Horseback riding as a therapy is one of the very best tools for both physical and mental injuries. While on horseback, the rider must find confidence and be able to let go or control his or her anxieties in order for the horse to follow commands. Horses can sense the rider’s inner being and will gladly take control if the rider does not. The trail ride experience forces the rider to focus on the task at hand which eliminates the ability to think about other things, especially negative things. Learning this mindset as a tool to manage challenges due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injuries and major physical injuries, offers our veterans the ability to get out more often and experience life, find purpose and once again give of themselves to society for the greater good.
For combat veterans with PTSD, TBI and physical injuries, managing every day stresses brought on by political arguments, opinions on social media, traffic noise, financial pressure, marital stress and many other things that may be out of their ability to control, can be suffocating. Therefore, providing opportunities to disconnect yet be connected at the same time with those just like themselves can be an incredible life saver.
“To be around other Purple Hearts is so good because I feel like they are just like me and I don’t feel like I’m being judged.” Purple Heart Participant (to remain anonymous)
Activities on our trips offer new tools and experiences but the most powerful thing we offer is the small group environment made up of all vetted Purple Hearts. This platform creates a comfortable
space which encourages these men and women to talk through and share their burdens without feeling judged or that their struggles aren’t real because everyone there has felt the same. Throughout the weekend issues that are heavy and full of guilt, anger, and frustration quickly become small and manageable as the veterans all remind each other of their strength and ability to persevere. The conversations of war stories, the good ones and often funny ones, returns them to a time before they were injured, a time where only life and death mattered and there was no room to worry about all the other little things in life. In an odd way, it was all simpler. This reminder has an empowering effect; it reminds them that they are in fact in control of many things and to focus only on what they can control. Here among brothers they return to the image of the strong warrior, they are uplifted, they are at peace and they stand ready to face the demons ahead.
Visit our photos from this event and check out the superb services from our two sponsors for this trip. We couldn't have done it without their support!
Whenever a group of combat veterans are gathered, retired or not, the potential for an emergency is always rather high. It’s not the type of emergency that most civilians think of first when at a Veteran event, but more on the lines of grown men reverting back to their childhood, a bunch of gigantic 11 year old boys running a muck and playing around. For the most part, they are fairly responsible in this ruckus but sometimes forget, like all adults, gravity takes its toll, bodies don’t react like they once did and then we find a problem on our hands. Unfortunately accidents happen and we do our best to be prepared, but the most amazing thing to witness is what happens all around the incident.
Military training is full of grinding drills, over and over in all sorts of weather and terrain. Whether the training is in the hot muggy Georgia summer sun or on the bitter cold mountains in Alaska skiing downhill with a 50 plus pound ruck on their back, the United States warriors are conditioned in ways to respond to an emergency that they sometimes don’t even understand. The protocols and mapping of that training has been coded into their hard drive, meaning it’s still there even when it’s not practiced and has been filed away for years. As a result, this training is recalled into action without searching for the file on the hard drive as if it is primary behavioral automatic response.
Most of the Veterans that we serve truly believe in their heart of hearts that they had deleted that file of emergency training. Many of them fear that due to their horrific trauma in combat that ultimately removed them from the theater of war, that they now have no ability to jump into action if an emergency appears in front of them. It’s hard to remember, if not a Veteran, that these men and women are natural protectors, and being a protector is a good portion of why they joined the military in the first place. Therefore, this fear of freezing and not being able to respond in an emergency to protect those around them can cause a debilitating and paralyzing sense of self. If they believe they are not able to respond in an emergency, they then believe they cannot protect their wives or children. If they believe they cannot protect those they love, then they begin to believe they are not worthy or deserving of having those loved ones, a happy life or a life at all.
What we have witnessed repeatedly on our weekend events have been some incredible breakthroughs of facing this fear head on and learning to trust again in the training our Veterans have received. We certainly do not work emergencies in on our trips to use as therapy but when they happen, we do address the powerful realizations that the fear of not being able to respond, simply shouldn’t be in their thoughts at all. The emergencies that have happened are mostly not to anyone in the group but those around us, such as people in a crowd where we are, a hunting dog injured by a wild hog, or natural medical emergency of a staff member, have presented unique opportunities for growth.
At the time of such an emergency, like a practiced emergency plan would play out, all six Veterans simply attending a weekend trip of fun, immediately transform back into the warrior on the battlefield. Those that were medics, assess the situation, perform life vitals checks and basic first aid, while the others call 911, organize the scene, and protect all others from any potential secondary accidents. They all automatically pull that file from the hard drive and go to work, they all find a role to support and engage. They all step back and see that they can in fact face trauma again, that they can protect and that they can fully function.
The root of most all stresses and anxieties is fear and any time we can combat those fears and annihilate them, we empower ourselves. Free from fear opens the door to pure joy.
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.