Healing from War in Costa Rica



Categories: Highlights Tags: , ,

In Costa Rica, mid-November is the beginning of the end for the period of rain known locally as the “green season.” And green is an accurate description, as the mountains are lush with vegetation from the constant rains of the previous months. Freedom Alliance was excited to reengage our activities at Los Sueños Resort and Marina, hosting three new groups for our Offshore Experience program (the last of which would be a couples’ retreat).

The first group included two friends from Puerto Rico: Jose Cardona and Jose Caban. Cardona served 23 years in the Army National Guard and deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, in 2005 and 2006, a time when Oliver North described that area as “the bloodiest place on the planet.” Caban served 24 years in the Air Force, where he survived a C-130 crash in Kuwait that killed three onboard.

Hailing from Texas, Army veteran Chris Kind served 10 years and deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq.  It was during his deployment to Iraq that he sustained multiple fractures and burns on 50 percent of his body from an enemy mortar.

We also invited young Johnathan R., who is still active duty. Johnathan is part of a Special Operations surgical team that recently returned from the conflict in Syria, where his unit treated hundreds of civilian casualties.

Long-time friend of Freedom Alliance, Lt. Col. Joe Shusko and his wife, Kadie, joined us as well. Joe recently retired from the Martial Arts Center of Excellence, where he first served as director, helping to create the modern-day Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.

Arriving at Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose, Costa Rica, the crew was met by Freedom Alliance staff member Pepper Ailor and supporter Virginia Lindholm. Virginia and her husband, Freedom Alliance Board Member Gerald Lindholm, graciously allowed us use of their condos, which sit on the highest point in Los Sueños, overlooking the resort and marina below.

After arriving at there, all gathered on the balcony to enjoy the last light of day as the sun sank over the horizon. Los Sueños residents Bob and Bea Osborn offered to feed us that first night, catering a meal of carne asada by Jimmy T’s, a local favorite.

The next morning, the men enjoyed breakfast, donated by the resort, at the Hook-Up Restaurant, which overlooks the marina. Talk quickly turned to predictions of the day’s event: offshore fishing. Will Drost of Maverick Sportfishing Yachts and Austin Duke of Houston-based Quanta Services donated a day of fishing on their vessel Sea Fly, a 50-foot custom Maverick yacht that was launched last year.

After checking in at the Maverick Center, the eager crew boarded Sea Fly to shake hands with Captain David Mesen, First Mate “Pancho” Brenes Zuniga, and deckhand Esteban “Gaillo” Gonzalez. The hour-long ride out to the fishing grounds was peaceful, and Chris, Joe, and Johnathan enjoyed the views from the fly bridge. Whereas die-hard fishermen Caban and Cardona couldn’t contain their enthusiasm and stayed on deck, watching the mates prep the tackle, gear, and equipment.

We delighted in an excellent fishing day, catching two mahi mahi (or “dorado,” as they are called in Costa Rica), then reeling in a double-header on sailfish, and finally hooking five yellowfin tuna—all around 50 pounds! Chasing tuna was a highlight, as the boat found pods of dolphin that were pushing the tuna. The captain expertly maneuvered into their path, persuading the tuna to take our bait.

As we returned to dock, a rainbow fell over the resort. And that evening, we dined on fish!

The next morning, we traveled to Tarcoles to board a flat-bottomed riverboat for an altogether different sort of day on the water.

The riverboat tour cruises along the Tarcoles River to spotlight the scenery and abundant wildlife. But there is no swimming on this tour, as the Tarcoles is infested with crocodiles! Our tour guide, Jose Eduardo of Jose’s Crocodile River Tour, kept the passengers in high spirits with joke after joke. His assistant, Jimmy, would regularly leave the safety of the boat to feed the crocodiles raw pieces of chicken—a habit that has earned him the nickname “Jimmy Loco.”

That afternoon, the Offshore Experience added a new venture—a two-hour ATV tour through the jungle with Canopy Vista Los Sueños Adventure Park! Driving through streams and mud puddles, we ended up at a beautiful waterfall in the deep jungle. The waterfall fell into a pool, and there we seized the opportunity to hear a Joe Shusko “Tie-In.” These are parables and stories about ethics and values that Joe collected over the years and taught during martial arts lessons, in an effort to create more than fighters, but ethical warriors.

The next day, Captain Jimmy Kitchell, owner of Costa Cat Cruises, donated a tour to Isla Tortuga on his catamaran tour boat. Isla Tortuga is a 45-minute ride across the bay and boasts beautiful clear-blue water and white sands.

Freedom Alliance uses this day to engage our veterans about their war experience, giving them new ways to look at and carry their burdens. The troops heard another “Tie-In” from Joe, participated in an exercise where they received letters of gratitude from strangers, and then engaged in group discussions about ancient warrior cultures and their significance to their societies.

That evening, after a meal provided by Gerald and Virginia, we closed out the event with a last opportunity for the veterans to speak about their service and what they learned during the Offshore Experience. It was an emotional time as we learned about the impact our program had on each man.

Later Chris wrote, “I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Before my trip to Costa Rica, my PTSD and anxiety was really in a bad place. The fishing trip helped calm my nerves. I feel as if I left a lot of that stuff on the ocean. I really appreciate all the support that you show Freedom Alliance and its cause. God bless.”

Special thanks to the Texas Billfish Classic, a tournament that raised the cost of the airfare so this band of brothers could attend our program. Many thanks to the tournament director, Jasen Gast; the artists who donate artwork to be auctioned; and the patriotic donors and participants who love our military!

 

Help Freedom Alliance Honor Military Service