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!
Our most recent Bonfire event took place in the sunshine state of Florida and of course the cool things we always plan to do there take advantage of the sun and fresh air. This is our 3rd Annual event in Stuart, Florida organized and executed by Board of Adviser member Jim Bevacqua and retired Major Bob Alfeiri. Their superior planning and leadership can withstand any storm and this year that was put to the test! We had a few hurdles due to Mother Nature’s wrath that brought in the doom and gloom but when you’re with a group of Purple Heart Veterans that have met adversity head on, time and time again, a little rain and rough seas will not bring them down.
Bonfire #56, Florida Cast n’ Putt, Stuart, Florida offers our guest a day of deep sea fishing and golf at the beautiful Jonathan's Landing Golf Club. Local sponsors roll out the red carpet hosting our group to dine in their eateries, use golf equipment at no charge, offer hands on fishing instruction along with tips and simply show that this group of Purple Hearts are appreciated for their service and sacrifice. In between all the love the group has time to do what is needed the most, visit among themselves to offer peer to peer support in areas of VA navigation, advice on battling Veteran isolation, encouragement to steer clear of unhealthy addictions and guidance on dealing with the demons from the battlefield.
“These trips help me open up and gives me that feeling of camaraderie again.” Purple Heart Jeffery T.
Mother Nature may have turned our deep sea fishing to river and shallow water fishing as well as our 18 holes of golf to 9, but the part she really played was giving this group the time they needed to talk, laugh, cry, find support and shine a light on what’s important. “These events help me to clear my mind and gives me a fresh days look on life” stated Purple Heart Scott A, in attendance. The skies cleared in time for our signature Bonfire ceremony to retire the American flag in honor of their fallen brothers with special guest, on his way through town, our Founder Dan Fordice.
Please take time to check out all our photos and recognize the following sponsors below that helped make this Bonfire happen. A special thanks to local organizers and leaders Jim Bevacqua and Bob Alfeiri, we can't do this one without them!
THANK YOU TO OUR SPONSORS
Once again our team of Purple Hearts and support staff successfully completed 100% of the 26.2 miles of the Bataan Memorial Death March! Held through the high terrain at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico every year, this course presents quite a challenge, trudging through deep sand, with an elevation starting at 4300 feet with an additional gain of 1650 feet. All of this is done along with 8300 of your closest friends.
So many participants along the way march for various reasons in addition to honoring those who lost their lives or survived the actual WWII Bataan Death March, and one of our very own Warrior Bonfire Purple Heart members was one of those who achieved a great personal goal here at the memorial
march. Ned Mitchell in 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq sustained injuries from an IED blast that took the lower portion of his left arm and inflicted extreme nerve damage to his lower legs and feet resulting in little to no feeling. He was told he would likely never walk again ten years ago. Yet here he is completing the Bataan Memorial March! A great example of drive and perseverance, never quit attitude, always carrying a smile with some jokes, and not taking for granted one bit of the sacrifice of our fallen brothers and the freedoms they secured for us as a nation of American citizens.
“An awesome group of men, I’m not often moved by people but these guys left me completely humbled and amazed.” G. Phillips, WBP volunteer support staff marcher.
In addition to Mitchell's' story and the normal difficulties such as, aches, pains, exhaustion, and blisters that come with a marathon march our team seemed to want to make it tougher by contracting the flu, walking pneumonia and a possible torn meniscus! Why not go all in?! However, each and every one of these marchers will tell you that pains, illnesses and all do not even come close to what those men endured in the real Bataan Death March – the 66 mile march to Camp O’Donnell in the Philippines during WWII when Imperial Japan forces captured 76,000 American and Filipino POW’s which began on April 9, 1942. The memorial march is conducted in honor of the heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II, sacrificing their freedom, health, and, in many cases, their very lives.
“Why I did the march?…I have a love for life, love and freedoms, which is why I went into battle again and again, but I marched mostly to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and stood for the same beliefs I have.” M. Bessler, Purple Heart & Marcher
This Bonfire event creates a team environment unlike most of our retreat events, it presents very different emotions, challenges and successes. Every year it leaves those Veterans in attendance with the familiar yet sometimes forgotten, feeling of being connected to something that is greater than themselves, the collective population of those that have worn the uniform throughout our American history of war and conflict. It gives them a look at just how far we have come as a nation and that they played a part in securing and continuing our history even though their injuries changed their course unexpectedly.
Here's to continued growth and leadership from our Veterans!
Make sure to click here to check out our photos from this Bonfire event!
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
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
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!
Being a leader at Bovina Elementary in Vicksburg, Mississippi is taken rather seriously and the Warrior Bonfire Program was honored to be chosen to benefit from all these 6th graders taking charge! Bovina Elementary is officially a Lighthouse school participating in the Leader In Me program. They are among the first in the state of Mississippi to have gained this recognition. Every month the 6th grade class chooses a non profit organization to receive funds and awareness. The Warrior Bonfire Program felt privileged to be the focus for the beginning of 2016!
Throughout the month of January, led by 6th grade teacher Torri Ghrigsby and her fellow teachers, helped the students learn about our Purple Heart Veterans, the history of the medal and how the medal is awarded. Purple Heart tributes were displayed throughout the school. They also learned of the traumas and lasting effects that our veterans experience and as a community how they can best support those that have sacrificed so much for their freedoms. The entire student body participated in the opportunity to be able to wear blue jeans on Wednesdays for $1.00 or have "free dress" for $3.00 to raise funds to help support post 9/11 Purple Heart Veterans to go on our Bonfire Adventure event trips! What a fun idea!?
Purple Heart Recipient and WBP Board of Directors Member, CJ Stewart was onsite to visit with the 6th grade class to share his personal account of his injuries sustained in Afghanistan. Stewart also talked about values and responsibilities in leadership. CJ Stewart is the founder of Camp Down Range working with teenagers in leadership and team building skills. On behalf of all of us at the Warrior Bonfire Program, Stewart received a check $736.00! Thank you to all the students, parents, teachers, administrators and community leaders who helped make this happen for us by giving your children the support to lead by actively getting involved.
The 6th grade class took their appreciation of our members one step farther in wishing our last bonfire trip and wonderful week of skiing, via social media messaging! Thank you again and we can't wait to see what type of leaders you become in the future!
As 2014 draws to a close, we do not want it to get away without extending a gigantic THANK YOU to all those that support us and our warriors. Your help, whether it is financial, volunteer, in kind donations, or connecting us to others, enable us unite and build a brotherhood among our nations Purple Heart warriors. Their healing depends on organizations like ours that continue to challenge them to keep pushing forward and find methods, tools, and relationships that serve as a foundation throughout their life long journey. The Bonfire is powerful and we invite you to continue to be a part of it. Thank you and many blessings to you all in 2015!
This year the Warrior Bonfire Project has made great strides to build the foundation for the incredible growth that lies ahead for 2015. Along with our trips and events over the last year and a half, we have nurtured and developed the perfect model Bonfire trip for our Purple Heart warriors. We have taken feedback from these soldiers and truly have created the environment that works best for them and delivers what they need. Therefore, 2014 became the time to:
Thank you all for your support and desire to be friends of the Bonfire! We couldn't do it without you!
The WARRIOR BONFIRE PROJECT TEAM
2014 warrior trips
Aside from our warrior trips we continually look for ways to serve veterans, create awareness around Traumatic Brain Injuries and Post Traumatic Stress (we drop the D in PTSD), and further our mission to build brotherhood for our Purple Heart recipients.
During 2014 we:
At this rate the Southern Heritage Air Foundation won’t be able to call this air show “little” for long! This show has been running every two to three years since 2004 and this past weekend entertained a crowd of nearly 5,000 with some of the top performers and teams in the country. The Warrior Bonfire Project cannot thank the Southern Heritage Air Foundation, its employees and volunteers enough for including us as the beneficiary of the weekend and raising awareness of our services.
This event gave us a platform to introduce our organization on a larger scale than any we have had before. Three of our alumni warriors and their families had the opportunity to share their firsthand experiences of participating on Bonfire trips and how it has transformed their lifelong journey of healing and recovery. Greg Williams, Jason Deming and Matt Melancon all confirm that being placed in an environment with 5 other soldiers like themselves that have had similar experiences, has helped them in a tremendous way. “Our doctors, our counselors, our families, our friends all want to understand, and we appreciate that, but the blank stares and the blank faces…. It’s hard. But when you get around the rest of us, after 10 minutes it’s like we’ve known each other for years, because we all walk the same path,” Deming stated in his presentation. “What this organization does is saving lives, you’re not just donating money for a wounded person to go hunting, fishing or skiing, you’re donating money and saving lives,” Greg Williams. Matt Melancon reflected on his first ski trip with the Warrior Bonfire Project after losing his first foot from combat wounds, when he went snowboarding he discovered that “for the first time in two years, my body did what I wanted it to do and I won!”
The wives of these men, Giovanna Williams and Jennifer Deming, helped us open the eyes of the air show sponsors that we also offer trips for the spouses as well. They are in great need of meeting others in their same positions. These wives make a daily choice to stay in the battle with their husbands and hold their hands. The lasting results from these sustained injuries that they manage all the time is beyond those most can imagine. It is imperative that they find a break and have the time to connect with others. Here they let their burdens go to others that understand and will not judge, here they find credible resources from the experience of those that are in their same shoes, and here they can relax for a couple of days.
Although these men and their families may not have drawn the crowd, they definitely made the most impact. Again we thank all those associated with the Southern Heritage Air Foundation, especially President Patty Mekus, Air Show Chairman Bob Fitzgerald, Air Show Boss Jim Tucciarone, countless volunteers and board members, and last but not least Dan Fordice who connects us all. We thank all of our sponsors, without you this event could not be possible. We thank the AeroShell Aerobatic Team for their ongoing support and adding our logo on their magnificent T-6 aircrafts. We thank all the other performers involved in the weekend events, the Flash Fire Jet Truck, the Victory Belles from the WWII museum, B-24 Diamond Lil crew, and 15 plus performers with their air crafts.
For more information visit the Southern Heritage Air Foundation. The Air Show will return, so make sure to not miss out!
Photo by: Dean Wingard at Taylor BMW
WBP Team writers
Blogs are written by staff members of the Warrior Bonfire Program along with guest writers.