“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!
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
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!
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!
Right off the bat, we are not talking about a bridge that carries you over a river or a road. We are talking about the a bridge that is connecting two groups of Americans, the military community and the civilian community. For three years in a row, the Warrior Bonfire Program has leaned on the support of various communities in southeast Texas, to help us provide a pig and predator hunt as one of our signature Bonfire events for six of our Purple Hearts to attend. Every year the comments at the end of the weekend from the Veterans center around the same theme. The renewed faith they have in civilians and experiencing true appreciation for their service in the United States Military.
Quotes like, "I didn't know that civilians cared so much" or "I am overwhelmed with how many there are here to help and how much they are doing for us."
The food provided at this hunt is amazing! Typical courses are steaks, gumbo, crawfish, Bar-B-Que, with all the fixings and desert too! There is a group of seven companies that call themselves the Southeast Texas Agriculture Support Group, that pulled their resources and employees together to provide these feasts. Beaumont Tractor, Hlavinka, Doguet's Diamond Ranch, J&E Welding Inc., Seabreeze Culvert Inc., GCR Tires of Beaumont and Shoppa's John Deere. Along with this grand effort of generous people are a group of ladies of the Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church Alter Society providing deserts and breakfast casseroles. More than once we have heard a Purple Heart say, "I ate more than I ever normally do because I wanted to make sure they knew I loved it!"
The community also comes out with an outpouring of gifts like custom hunting knives, tumblers with the Warrior Bonfire logo engraved, high end coolers, t-shirts, hats, gift cards, handmade wooden flags with shell casings for stars, local seasonings, and State of Texas shot glasses from the local congressman. It's like Christmas! The Heart of Texas bleeds red, white and blue and their passion for giving back to our Veterans is second to none! They appreciate our Veterans and our Veterans appreciate them.
Our hostess Judy Lewis along with her husband Cody, and their big time helper Brandy Winkler, made our Veterans comfortable at the Triple D Guest Ranch to be well rested for their hog hunts with Cody Stewart and his crew.
Months of preparation and organizing goes into this event each year, pulling in new support and ways to show how much they care for our Veterans, such as a private show by comedian Erik Knowles, also a Marine Veteran. Our unending gratitude for our Board of Adviser Ernest Clement, Jr. and Justin Lewis for pulling all these wonderful people together.
Thank You for Your Service!
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!
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
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for $15 a Month
The Military community is truly a small world. Even though 2% of the population of the United States can be a large number of people, service members can easily find themselves in conversations that quickly create familiarity.
These are the questions that come up quickly and instantly it’s like these people have known each other their entire lives! These connections make our bonfire events fun and meaningful, but the real doozy, are the times when two service members actually reconnect with an old battle buddy that they lost contact information. This happens far less this day in time due to technology and social media, but it does happen.
On our last Bonfire event at Featherhorn Farm in Pinewood, South Carolina, this very situation occurred. Our group was being hosted at this location at the same time as two other veteran care organizations serving Purple Hearts. Our Warrior Bonfire Ambassador / Bonfire Leader Tim Bell has never sounded so excited after an event as he did this one. Bell ran into a battle buddy from his time in Fallujah around the time he was injured. “Being able to connect again was really cool and big surprise” Bell said. His emotion can’t fully be reflected in print, but his voice said it all.
Once again we see proof of good life changing things come from putting these events together! The entire group of Purple Heart Veterans came away from this hunt feeling connected and most of all appreciated for their service and sacrifice. Our new partners at Featherhorn Farm, along with owner Jimmy Lee and hunt organizer Chad Ardis, made this happen. Their top notch experience and service to our group couldn’t have been better! We are excited to announce that plans are in the works to make this an annual event and look forward to a great partnership!
Check out our photos from this event! South Carolina Bonfire
Veterans Day found the Warrior Bonfire Program doing what it always does year round, bringing Purple Hearts together, working the issues and celebrating life! Back in Vienna, Missouri for its 2nd Annual Missouri Fishing Trip at Charwood Lake, this event is all about getting off the grid, relaxing and breathing, far away from the stresses of the world. Charwood is a private, 40-acre lake with a lodge on 200 beautiful, wooded acres in central Missouri. The Bonfire traveled far to find this sanctuary in the cold with three Purple Hearts coming from sunny Florida and one trekking in from Colorado. The travel was long but the welcome was worth it as they were greeted with a yummy pulled pork dinner for our hungry travelers.
Like all of our events, this group connected immediately, taking to the game room after dinner, for friendly competition and disarming the barrier walls that have been built around their injuries and dark memories. The blanket of security enveloped this group quickly, allowing for some the first real opportunity to shed the pain. Late into the evening after a long day of travel this group fell fast asleep and woke up late to start the day on Friday. A good breakfast at the Market kicked off the day and fueled this crew for fishing and some vicious bantering at our private fishing "Tournament". With every catch the battle of the words increased; “I caught the first fish”, “that isn’t a fish, it’s a minnow”, “you stole my pole”, etc. This is way more healing than it appears! These interactions create comfort and commonality.
These interactions set the stage for our more intense sessions of "Pain Shared is Pain Divided, Joy Shared is Joy Multiplied". Trauma for these brothers and sisters was shared and shed, washed away in tears and healed in hugs. The joy this group felt for one of their own opening up for the first time was incredibly overwhelming and will not be forgotten.
November 11, Veterans Day, this group stepped back in time for a bit to enjoy a ride around the lake in an old 5 ton Army dump truck, driven by Purple Heart Nathan Wood, followed by more fishing, more bantering and then ending with our signature Bonfire ceremony. A very appropriate ending to a very special day. Purple Heart Jonathan Flores stated about the ceremony, "I loved the flag ceremony, it was very meaningful and gave me the closure that I never had. It gave me a way to show respect for my brothers I lost along the way."
Special acknowledgment and thanks, goes out to Dr. Mike Pasque for sharing his property with us, Dave Pasque of Denver, CO, for hosting the event and Ken Miner of St Louis, MO, for coming to support our Purple Heart Recipients. You are all part of the strong foundation of the Warrior Bonfire Program through your tireless efforts in making our Bonfires special.
See the photos from this event by clicking HERE
WBP Team writers
Blogs are written by staff members of the Warrior Bonfire Program along with guest writers.