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!
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.
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!
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
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
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
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.