Freedom Care Warrior Project

David Crowder

The Freedom Care Warrior Project weekend was an awesome insight into the generosity and devotion of Americans.  This weekend allowed me to escape from the hectic life I built at home, to befriend some of the most honest and caring people I have had the pleasure of meeting, to bond with other men who have dealt with the wartime military and VA, to enjoy activities that I have been unwilling or unable to try since my return, and to come to peace with some of the emotions that I secretly battled with since my time overseas.

On my drive to Graham, thoughts raced through my head of what awaited.  I left my company in the hands of one of my employees and worried about paychecks, invoices, jobs, and tools.  As a “hands-on” manager, it is difficult to leave the business I am building, knowing that I may be out of reach, unable to assure tasks would be completed or deal with potential issues that might arise. 

As I pulled into Graham and talked to Jon and Brook, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with the passion and excitement in their voices.  Work could wait; we had an agenda.  By Friday evening, work was the last thing on my mind- I was able to relax and enjoy the event.

Events such as this are ineffective without a crew of devoted volunteers.  A group of men and women donated their time and made an intense and logistically complex weekend run as smoothly as anyone could hope.  And, not only did they show up and help with the many tasks necessary for a multi-faceted course of activity and movement go off without a hitch, but they also invested themselves in the well-being of the veterans for whom the event was initiated.  From the first hand shake out of my truck, I met one person after another who became my friends.  From their giving spirit, to their listening ears, their stories, and their open invitation to partake in a multitude of activities (many of which included using their gear, ammunition, and diesel); these men made me feel appreciated and welcome.  It has been very difficult for me to accept gifts or praise for my service; that is not why any veteran joined the service.  All of the volunteers not only were gracious but each also conveyed the pleasure and authentic pride to be a part of the event and the healing of us.  While the hunting and shooting were fun, the gem of the weekend for me was spending time with these men, many of whom were also in the service and all of whom deeply cared about helping me feel comfortable.

I find it difficult to talk about my experiences with my best friends who have not served.  It is impossible to empathize with someone when you have not been in the same position or faced similar defining situations.  During conflict, the military requires young people to make judgments and act with little information and less support for the consequences.  The veterans, both disabled and volunteers, shared stories about the highs and lows of military life.  Through some of these discussions, I was able to let go of some of the things that have bothered me and found new ways to deal with those that I am still haunted by.  This is amazing for me- the only other group I have been able to share this bond with are the brothers in arms who were with me.  I felt comfortable enough to open up to these men after spending just hours with them.  It was also exciting to watch the other veterans partake in the activities and glow with success throughout the weekend.

In that same vein, hunting and shooting did not bring the same pleasure for me when I got home.  Where I used to hunt and shoot very frequently, my attitude was generally apathetic following my time in the Corps.  The thrill and allure seemed to be gone.  My wife even voiced reservation about me getting back on a helicopter following lengthy discussions with her about my distaste for the machines; she worried that shooting from an aircraft might cause a very bad emotional reaction.  With my group of new friends, I pushed myself to take part in every activity available, and found that I still enjoyed shooting.  I did not have many of the feelings I worried about before.  I don’t think I am going to add heli-hunting to my list of common activities, but overcoming that hesitation will cascade into other things in my life that I have avoided.  Completing these activities built my confidence and reinforced my belief in my ability to face other challenges.

A common thread through all of this has been regaining confidence in people and in me.  By facing my issues in the company of men who are dealing with similar issues to mine, I was able to push away the anchors which have held me down.  I left Graham with a heavy heart knowing that I would not see many of my friends for some time, but I was relaxed and in a much healthier state of mind.

I tried to convey my thanks to everyone, but hopefully you all will understand the profound changes you have enabled me to make.  Every veteran seemed to take some of these things, and we all appreciated being involved.

To all of the Freedom Care volunteers- Thank you.

Brook Barrineau

May 14th, 2012
RE: Freedom Care Warriors

Over the weekend of May 3rd thru 6th I had a wonderful opportunity to spend several days with five very special wounded/service disabled veterans from the Gulf/Iraq War at a wounded veterans benefit in Graham, Texas. The event was planned, organized and hosted by Jon Van Winkle, founder of the non-profit organization Freedom Care Warriors.

The Graham based organization is dedicated to serving and providing support and care for disabled veterans. The amazing folks in Graham and surrounding towns worked so hard to make the entire weekend a success. Jon, the cooking team and all of the volunteers showed their passion through their gift of service, hundreds of man-hours were spent in order to prepare for the arrival of these five honorable men. This great organization is a true blessing to veterans.

During the weekend I had many opportunities to talk and connect with the veterans as they spent the days doing activities. It was interesting to hear them tell stories about their experiences and duties. As I listened, it became apparent that so much was sacrificed in order for them to serve our country. Each of them gave up comfort, security, friends, family, personal needs, homes and so much more than we can begin to imagine. For many of them the PTSD is a major block in their lives. The memories that haunt them are more profound than the broken backs, broken legs and deafness, etc.... Each day for these men is work just to keep their mental game in check, yet they are still proud they served. After a full day of being around the volunteers it was clear the veterans began to trust us, they began to open up and share their personal stories. It was amazing to hear them tell their experiences, it felt so surreal to have them share the most intimate battle details. The stories of why these veterans are disabled are the most incredible and terrifying. I am grateful for the courage of these warriors, if it were not for courageous hearts like these, you and I would not have the liberties we have today. I am inspired by their level of commitment for an ideal that is not tangible or measurable. It can’t be harnessed or displayed, it can’t be held or worn…. Service is a gift that can be felt. These men held nothing back as they gave all that they could. They are real Heroes and they are the most modest people you will ever meet. They model Christ in their servant-leadership.

I highly encourage everyone to seek an opportunity to volunteer at wounded veteran’s benefits if possible. I was once again humbled to have all of my preconceptions of a war hardened veteran melted away by the love and connection they offered. I wasn’t expecting them to be the gift they were to me…how life has such wonderful surprises if we only get out of our comfort zones and allow ourselves to be available and vulnerable for others. I had no idea that I would be the one to walk away with a heart filled with thanksgiving and gratitude. I owe so much to the men and women that have served to create freedom, liberty and security in America, especially those who paid the ultimate price. May God’s blessing and favor rest abundantly on those who have lost friends and family to the tragedy of war. 

Brook Barrineau

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