Donors in Summit County help veterans recover in style
This week, the Friends of Windward Wounded Warriors, a Honolulu-based nonprofit which was created to support wounded, ill and injured Marines and their families, returned to Park City for its second annual Wounded Warriors retreat. Participants say the program, which is not affiliated with the Wounded Warriors Project, has been met with an outpouring of hospitality from Park City entities, which provided everything from food and lodging to guided fishing trips over the May 19-26 stay.
According to the organization’s Facebook page, about 70 volunteers, alongside a host of donors, helped bring the trip together by providing food, transportation, access to private fishing areas and golfing.
Sitting outside of the Hyatt Centric at Park City Mountain Resort, which had donated rooms to Friends of Windward Wounded Warriors, Steven Jensen, a retired Commander in the U.S. Navy’s chaplain corps, said he started the program in 2011 to fill in gaps between other nonprofits serving veterans.
“Although there are a lot of programs that help post-9/11 combat wounded, there are other people who maybe had cancer and blood diseases, who are maybe not covered by those programs,” he said. “They are all ill or injured Marines and the sailors who go with them – the chaplains, corpsmen and the families.”
In addition to the Park City retreat, Friends of Windward Wounded Warriors provides retreats for caregivers and has weekly sit-down opportunities for those who want to talk over coffee, and days for family activities.
Jensen said the organization also has the ability to cut through red tape when other entities can’t.
“When someone’s in the hospital and the doctor says, ‘They had back surgery, and we have to keep them for weeks until we can get the (U.S. medical) system to provide them with a recliner,’ I can buy it today and have it today, have it delivered today, and they can go home today,” Jensen said.
In Hawaii, Jensen’s organization acts as a support group to the Wounded Warrior regiment, which focused on rehabilitating Marines so they can either return to their post or transition to civilian life. The ones that transition back to being civilians can find further help with the Friends of Windward Wounded Warriors.
On Thursday, the group was preparing for a day of golf at Canyons Golf, which allowed the retreat to play a day before it opened to the public.
“Part of what happens here is using the activities of Park City to let Marines do things Marines like to do,” Jensen said. “Push each other, challenge each other. If you don’t like zip lines, you’re going on the zip line anyway. If you don’t like being out on the water, you’re out there with other guys, and it reduces your anxiety level. We are pushing them to say, ‘If you exert yourself, there is a payback for that.’ There’s a positive response to the effort.”
They also participate in other exercises, like the seemingly simple task of going into a Walmart, which Friends of Windward Warriors did, as a group, to help those with PTSD deal with being in crowded, overstimulating places, as well as getting groceries.
One of the members of the retreat, Joshua Kelly, held the rank of Private First Class before a roadside bomb heaved the engine block of the Humvee he was riding in onto his left ankle, crushing it irreparably, in Afghanistan in 2009. When his ankle didn’t heal, he elected to have his lower leg amputated, relieving pain and giving him greater mobility with the help of a prosthesis. He said programs like Friends of Windward Wounded Warriors help veterans recover by giving them examples to follow.
Having a group comprising those who are struggling and those who are recovering well helps the group share “how to get through the day make sure you’re staying away from drinking the bottle too much — making sure you’re not sitting in your room at 3 a.m. thinking bad thoughts,” Kelly said.
Joshua Reyes broke his back while conducting a martial arts training. Reyes said he has been on the struggling side of the group before.
The former aviation ordinance technician underwent multiple surgeries, before which he was told he would never walk again. The Friends of Windward Wounded Warriors helped him after he was discharged, when he was still recovering medically and dealing with the change in his life’s direction.
“I didn’t have much of a family growing up, so the Marine Corps was all I had, and for that to happen it was such a devastating blow, especially for someone who was dedicated, motivated and wanted to give back,” he said. “Two weeks before that happened, I was nominated for ‘Noncommissioned Officer Marine of the Year.’ Two weeks later, for me to be on my back paralyzed, facing multiple surgeries, I was taken to a dark place.”
He said the Friends of Windward Warriors program saved his life by putting him in an environment around other people going through similar things, and that couldn’t have happened without the support of communities like Park City.
“Some guys have been out for a while and they lost that camaraderie, and they are dealing with their issues all alone,” Reyes said. “But here you have each other and people that are willing to make this happen, and that alone says a lot. I’m just thankful.”
Jensen said there was such an outpouring of resources for the group on Facebook that there were more recreational opportunities offered than the retreat could participate in.
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