Complicated Homecoming

Categories: Highlights, Offshore Experience, Support Our Troops Tags: ,

“Going to war is easy,” said Daniel M., a combat veteran who recently participated in the Freedom Alliance Offshore Experience with two other veterans.

“Coming home is much more complicated.”

Daniel’s sentiment is exactly why the Freedom Alliance Offshore Experience is so important. We not only treat combat veterans to a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in Costa Rica, but we teach them how to live with their burdens from war in an intentional and structured series of sessions.

Master Sergeant Daniel M. served 20 years in the Marine Corps and retired just weeks before attending the program. He was an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technician, which means he defused bombs. He deployed a total of six times, including once to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan.

Fellow bomb technician and Marine Master Sergeant Matt F. attended the program with him. Matt served on five deployments, including one to Iraq and two to Afghanistan. Matt and Daniel served together on a tough mission to Sangin, Afghanistan, in 2010.

Hank, or “Doc” as we call him, served in two generational conflicts: Desert Storm/Desert Shield and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He began his career as a corpsman, or medic, assigned to a Marine battalion.

“I was part of the team, and they treated me like an equal,” Hank said. “I went through all the fun training like fast-roping, rappelling, amphibious training, et cetera…. I worked hard to earn their respect and be called ‘Doc’.”

From there he received a commission and joined the Navy Nurse Corps as a flight nurse. He explained, “I was with a surgical team that would be positioned just a few minutes away from any operation.” Doc retired in 2011 after 26 years, having served both active duty and reserve.

The three vets arrived on a Monday night to a condominium in Los Sueños donated by Toni Maxton of Florida. “The condo we stayed in was nicer than my house, and you can’t beat the view of the ocean,” Daniel later said.

Toni’s aunt, the late Nancy Smith, had donated her condo for our program, and Toni continues this generous tradition in her memory.  She told us, “It was truly an honor for [my aunt] to be involved and support veterans. It was by far one of her favorite things the last few years and gave her so much pride.”

The full day, the men were treated to a massage at the boutique hotel Villa Caletas, which sits on a ridgeline overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Pam Harlow, owner of Serenity Spa at Villa Caletas, to honor their service, graciously gifted them with an hour-long professional massage at her spa. It was the perfect way to recover from a long day of travel and transition into the relaxing beauty of Costa Rica.

The remainder of the day was dedicated to introducing the framework of our curriculum, which would be our special mission: defining warriorhood and looking at historical examples of how warriors of long-ago dealt with many of the same burdens from war. Over the course of the week, we would discuss each day how these burdens can be better balanced and carried without breakdown.

In between these sessions, we would go on lots of adventures!

Their first day of fishing began with a hearty greeting from Captain John LaGrone of the sport fishing yacht Ohana. John welcomed the veterans aboard the 2021 68-foot Viking, owned and generously donated by Ed Burr of Florida. The Viking has all the bells and whistles, including Furuno multi-directional omni-sonar and air-conditioned vents that blow on the necks of the anglers while they rest.

In the cockpit were two hard-working mates: Fernando and Captain John’s son James. Captain’s wife, Vanessa, tended to the salon and ensured we never went hungry. The boat’s name, Ohana, is the Hawaiian word for family, and that’s exactly how its guests were treated.

“Captain John and his family…have such deep love for our country and our veterans,” said Doc. “They are the kind of Americans that are worthy of fighting for.”

It was an amazing day on the water for our combat veterans. They caught five yellowfin tuna, three mahimahi, and two blue marlin. “That was the best day of fishing I ever had,” said Matt, thus discovering why Los Sueños is considered one of the top fishing destinations in the world.

Next, owner of Costa Rica Dreamboats, Mike Erickson, graciously donated a full-day charter on his boat, also called Los Sueños, a 36-foot Luhrs Express.

Since our fishing adventure the day prior was so worthwhile, the guys decided to pursue some bottom fishing to even out our inventory of caught fish. By lunchtime we had landed 18 fish of various species, including some grouper, and finished the day with Daniel reeling in a beautiful mahi.

“I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to be doing,” said Daniel.

He later described why the fishing meant so much to him: “Every day is a struggle. Fishing is my only real break from reality. It’s not a solution, but sometimes it feels like getting a breath of air when I’ve been drowning.”

On the vets’ final day in Costa Rica, we were invited to a soothing day at Isla Tortuga, thanks to Jim Kitchell of Costa Cat Cruises, who has donated a spot on his tour for every Freedom Alliance Offshore Experience and Freedom Alliance Heroes Vacation since he started his business.

At Tortuga, the men decompressed, relaxing in the shade of palm trees, watching and listening to blue waters lap against white sands.

That night, chef Randy Diaz came to the condo to prepare sushi for the men before our final session and closing ceremony. It’s always hard to say goodbye after meeting and becoming close to such amazing people, and this time was no different.

Doc described the program as transformative and recommended it for other veterans: “The comradeship and shared experiences are well worth it…. It will open up a mindset that will help you heal.”

Comradeship and healing are two of our goals, and we couldn’t do this without those who contribute financially. We offer a special thank you to the following: the late Foster Friess and Lynn Friess, for his large donation in December 2020 that was made possible because of Jamie Turner’s belief in our healing work; the Henggeler Moriarty Foundation, for their many contributions to Freedom Alliance and this program; Gerald and Virginia Lindholm, for their generous gifts and steadfast support; Will Drost of the William T. and Ethel Lewis Burton Foundation; Jim and Wanda Gammon of Gammon Management Inc.; and the McKissick Foundation, for their generosity.

Special thanks to Los Sueños Resort and Marina for donating meals and allowing us the privilege to call the resort our healing grounds. Finally, we thank Gato Gordo Golf Cart Rentals for their sustained dedication over the years in donating golf carts for our veterans.

Reposted from www.faoffshore.com

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