From the perspective of Bonfire 78 Retreat attendee, Purple Heart Frank Herbert.
When offered the trip to St George, South Dakota, I wondered what exactly a cattle ranch could offer me. Growing up in Texas, I wasn’t new to horses and cattle, so this wasn’t something new or novel for me. This was my first trip of any sort for veterans, much less wounded ones, and my mind conjured up a myriad of events that might take place. Thankfully none of those happened. What did occur was inspiring to say the least.
As many of you know, the Warrior Bonfire Program takes 6 or 7 wounded veterans, links them up with a trip, and lets the experience do the healing. Whether it’s fishing, winter adaptive sports or otherwise, the event speaks for itself. No such clarity for this trip, especially for me being on my first veterans outing of any kind.
The group arrived, with one coming in late…Google Maps directions don’t work too well in rural South Dakota. Several of us, myself included, were career servicemen and the rest had the desire to, but had their careers cut short by injuries. We also had one Vietnam veteran, which was educational for us. Utilizing the ranch guest house we settled in. This being the first time Warrior Bonfires had used the Majestic for a trip, there was going to be some ‘learn as we go.”
For me, I spent the better part of post 9/11 in senior leadership roles in the tank community enduring back to back deployments, setting aside my personal life (and family) for the more pressing need to make sure my Marines came home alive-an unrealistic expectation-and threw myself into this work. After a series of deployments and the combat that goes with tanks, sucking up the pain didn’t work anymore and I was denied reenlistment due to injuries. Staying busy meant not dwelling on things so I likewise threw myself into teaching JROTC for 8 years, working long hours until once again I had to stop to take care of my health. These experiences, I found, were not uncommon. Work has purpose, and once that stops, one is faced with the reality of examining oneself. Looking back on lost Marines, broken relationships, bad health and a myriad of other things, I’ve never thought much about the “What ifs” but more about “Was it worth it?”
That’s where the Majestic comes in. The Majestic Ranch sits in the rolling grasslands of far southeastern South Dakota, near the Missouri River and the Lewis and Clark trail. People out here on the ranches live according to the seasons, whether torrential spring rains or blizzards. All while raising cattle supporting the beef industry of America. But what does the Majestic have that made this trip so special? After all, there are Dude Ranches everywhere that cater to people who want a taste of cowboy life, and this is a working ranch.
The Majestic is a working ranch, running thousands of head of cattle. The Majestic Ranch is a business. Tony and Meghan Weborg are like many small business owners. From the time the get up to the time they go to bed (and probably while they sleep), the business end of the ranch is on their minds. We were collectively impressed with this end. How much fuel? How much meds to order? What’s the market forecast? Don’t forget about the weather. Business means reducing overhead so they do most of the work. With thousands of head of cattle, they only have two full time employees. The rest they do themselves.
Here, in what is normal for Tony and Meghan, their family, friends, and neighbors, we saw something special. Time for shots and branding of calves? Lets go to work. Friends and family showed up. The part we loved was the kids. The Weborg’s kids were all business. It was dirty, stinky work. Roping, throwing calves. Tagging, cutting, shots. They and their friends all but took over, with the “adults” there mostly for guidance. These kiddos knew how to work! All of us veterans had plenty of time in service, and none of us tolerated slackers and whiners, and only gave out “Atta boys” only grudgingly. We were to a person amazed at what we saw in these young adults. There was no griping-they made their own fun, accepting the work as something to be done. Polite, respectful. Trusted with the ranch truck. Independent. Seeing what needs to be done and doing it. Trustworthy. Boots off at the door. Yessir, nossir. Smiles all the time. These are all words I come up with as I don’t have the room to describe everything. Families together. Talk of how bad the spring rains were and all the news focused on the South.
What we saw was America. Hard working families. Great kids. People working together for the common good. All those clichés we hear are taking place in front of our eyes. Neighbors helping each other. All of us had been in the military for many years. Several of us for decades. The military life is a protective, insulated bubble. We protect America. We go in harms way. But we miss out in participating in what America truly is. On this trip, we got to see a small part of what America is.
While all of our stories are different, and we all took something different away, I think I can speak for all on one common thread. It WAS worth it.
Thank you to the Weborg family for hosting the Warrior Bonfire Program along with Majestic Ranch and Zivaro, Inc. as retreat sponsors! Click here to see more photos!
WBP Team writers
Blogs are written by staff members of the Warrior Bonfire Program along with guest writers.