I spent three days the beginning of May amongst some of America’s finest. The ride home was spent reflecting on each moment, taking in the various organizations and individuals that came together to make the weekend happen, and thinking about the families of Veterans that were represented.
It really is hard to take it all in and no doubt will take me a few days to download it all from my head to heart and process things.
During the four days, which also continued Sunday morning with a worship service and conversational time, Veterans learned about mediation and Yoga, participated in fun activities like parasailing, dolphin cruise, beach time, golf, rode the Ferris Wheel, wrote songs with famous musicians and song writers, rode their Harleys, fished on charter boats, and/or enjoyed a relaxing time by the pool.
The food . . . oh my word the food . . . and hospitality from the folks at the Wharf was top notch. Billy was there every step of the way, making sure everything was set up and as it should be. He truly went above and beyond.
Friday morning, Colonel Doug King, USMC, Retired, taught Veterans with PTSD the basic steps to meditation, which included breathing, stretching, and developing core strength. I’ve never seen so many men doing yoga, especially a bunch of “rough and tough” military personnel, but when a retired Col says sit you sit and when he says “shoulders back and deep breath in . . .” well . . . you get the picture.
I had attempted Yoga one time many years ago. It was horrible. A basic class was not basic and it wasn’t educating. What I witnessed Friday morning from a Retired Colonel from the United States Marine Corps was a man with a hard exterior, having compassion for our Veterans with PTSD. I saw a man with high standards and expectations, take his expertise as a now certified Yoga instructor, and show these men how to ground themselves with some of the basics of yoga stretches. I saw a heart continuing to give back to our country by continuing to invest in our Veterans who have unseen wounds. The heart he has for our Veterans and wanting to help them spoke so much louder and stronger than the stern composure of the Colonel. Since the Colonel learned Yoga and makes it a part of his every day life, he has been taken off all medications and his daily pain from health challenges are non-existent. In fact, his story was so compelling and he taught the basic so well, it encouraged me to reconsider Yoga again for my own physical and mental health improvement.
One of the attendees at the AHERO event was Traci Solt, the VA Director of Clinical Services (in Pensacola) who serves our Veterans every single day. We are thankful for her attendance and support of AHERO.
After the early morning Yoga class I was able to meet five amazing individuals that came together for Music4AHERO. The concept was actually started by another non-profit organization called Operation Song. Take the time to read about it or you will miss the wow factor and listen to their music while on the site. In fact, buy their music! Support them! The individuals that are involved with that Operation Song help contribute to AHERO by meeting with our Veterans and writing their stories with song. Talk about powerful.
This particular day, five gifted song writers (two professional musicians and song writers, Rusty Tabor and Jeff Silvey), a patriot that loves his country and helps write songs for AHERO, Kevin Adair, and has UNBELIEVABLE talent (and should be in Nashville singing), as well as two Veterans who sing/perform and write songs, came together, and in just a matter of hours . . . wrote a song, then put music to it in order to share the story of one of our Veterans at a concert Saturday night.
Saturday was the day for the fishing trip. One of the charter boats had to drop out last minute due to mechanic problems . . . in fact . . . several different ones had to cancel days prior but the community stepped up big time. The excitement and anticipation on the faces of our Veterans heading out for a day on the boat is indescribable. There’s just truly no words. But what is so amazing is the fishing was just the tool to bring other Veterans together . . .
Yes, they had fun.
Yes, they caught fish.
But . . . what went beyond that . . . and I can’t even type this without being moved to tears, was the relationships and conversations that took place on those deep waters. Lives were changed Saturday.
Veterans that believed they were alone in their journey were proved wrong. They saw first hand they had a tribe of Veterans walking with them and Americans who love them and are standing in the gap for them.
And my life was changed being on the outside watching it unfold.
After the fishing trips I had the opportunity to take photos of the Veterans with their catch. My favorite story was hearing Dave, a quadriplegic, had caught the biggest fish of the day. It had to be released because it was out of season, but that didn’t matter – they got pictures, memories were made, stories were told . . . relationships were formed . . . connections were made.
Saturday evening, Music4AHERO and Ride4AHERO joined over twenty Veterans and countless volunteers for an amazing dinner provided by the Wharf. There were four other charity events that took place Saturday that dispersed the riders, but we still had approximately forty members of various clubs present. Don Rodgers is the owner of H&D Cycles in Lillian, AL. The riders came together and donated $500 to AHERO Saturday night. H & D Cycles matched that with an additional $500 donation to AHERO. One thing you can say and count on – riders love their county, honor our Vets, and they support the organizations that do the dirty work.
As I photographed a few of the motorcycles, but one pulled me in. It was one of forty-nine Indians ever made. My understanding is this one was number forty-six.
But that’s not what got my attention . . .
. . . it was the the laminated document attached to the windshield that stopped me.
I had the opportunity to speak with the owner of this bike – and for the life of me I can not remember his name, but I’ll never forget his face and the fact he couldn’t talk without the tears and having to clear his throat to gain composure.
The missing in action, “Mad Dog,” was his best friend – they were neighbors. He was the oldest of five and Mad Dog was the oldest of nine. They lived in LA in a rough part of town. They always had each other’s back. They served together. Mad Dog’s helicopter was hit and exploded. No pieces were ever found . . . all that remains are the broken pieces of another Veteran’s heart.
I’ve been volunteering with AHERO for only eight months. Each opportunity I am given to serve or photograph makes an impact. Each event I can’t imagine being impacted more than I already had been. Each event I leave with a better understanding of what the words honor, integrity, dedication . . . sacrifice . . . really mean and how great our country truly is. Not because of the people running it and sitting in an office, but because of these men and women working their asses off to defend it.
My prayers continue daily for those who have served and continue to serve, but also for those whose time of service has ended and tirelessly continue to serve our Veterans with unseen injuries.
For more information on AHERO visit AHEROUSA.ORG.
A second Warrior Hookup is scheduled for August in the Pensacola area. Please pray about doing your part either by serving or donating to help pay for lodging.
You can visit my smugmug link for many more pictures from the weekend. AHERO Warrior Hook Up Orange Beach