Written by guest blogger CW4 Doug Petersen (Ret), who served 20 years as a US Army Aviator. A decorated Vietnam veteran, Doug was a Dustoff pilot and was shot down twice during his tour.
Have you ever seen a life change? What about an entire family? I was given the opportunity to see both at two retreats hosted by Project Sanctuary in Marble Falls, Texas. Our veterans and their families came together for six days to reconnect not only with the family, but also with themselves through various specific counseling and recreational events.
As a Vietnam veteran, flying medical evacuation helicopters, taking injured soldiers to medical facilities, I saw what some could only imagine. While I wasn't in the same geographical combat zone, it didn't matter. There is a connection, one soldier to another.
My wife, not only a military spouse for all the years together with me, but also an "Army Brat," had the connection with the military spouses at the retreat, too. She related to the struggles of separation, doing everything in the home while the service member was on duty, and being able to maintain the home and family integrity.
I became aware of Project Sanctuary through my previous employer and discovered the great mission of this organization. It was apparent after I retired that my wife and I would like to volunteer at one of the retreats in Texas. We wanted to be of service to our veterans and their families in some small way. Charitable donations were one method we used, but we felt we could do more, and being a volunteer seemed to make the most sense to us.
We didn't know what to expect, and we discovered that we couldn't have imagined the rewards we would receive in return.
While we were not part of the formal retreat classes, which are conducted by well-trained professionals, we helped with the programs for the children. Meaningful children’s activities were designed to help the young members of these families reconnect as well. To see the little ones change as the week progressed was rewarding, too.
My wife and I ate meals with the families and participated in the group recreational events, getting to know them on a personal level.
One of the highlights of the retreat was the lip-sync battle the last night of the retreat. This brings out the suppressed child in the adults, and gets the children with their parents in various lip-sync sessions. Not only did this show the positive change in the family dynamics from the first day, it showed they were having fun as a family.
At breakfast on the last day, we witnessed a connection between families, but more importantly, the reinforced and strong family unit. Tears were shed as one family said good-bye to another. The children also bonded, and new friendships were created.
Regardless of the job you have, or had; regardless of the paycheck that is deposited in the bank, the true reward is being part of a life-changing experience involving our American heroes, and their families.