Operation Phantom Fury, also called the Second Battle of Fallujah, was a 2004 joint offensive of American, Iraqi, and British forces, led by the United States Marine Corps. The two months during which this campaign was fought are considered the most intense of the Iraqi War.
Fast forward twelve years, and some wonderful folks in Wyoming, the owners and staff of the Double E Ranch, invited Freedom Alliance to use their property to provide a vacation for Marine Corps veterans of Operation Phantom Fury and Fallujah.
Actually, not only did they donate the ranch and its resources for this purpose, but they volunteered themselves, as well.
Head chef Coletta and her kitchen staff prepared fantastic meals. The Double E’s “horse whisperer” Frank provided breathtaking trail rides and one-on-one instruction. Ranch manager Troy arranged and guided daytime activities for the Marines.
Ranch owners Erik and Stacy and their family acted as welcome committee, hospitality executives, and new best friends.
The 10 men we selected for this getaway seemed to immediately relax and settle into the beauty surrounding the Double E Ranch. From Chicago and Baton Rouge, as well as the states of California, Texas, Florida and more, these Marines from all parts of the country had a common bond…
Fallujah—the bloodiest engagement of the war.
Some hadn’t seen each other in years, and, despite horrific shared memories of combat, the laughter and storytelling started up right away.
At various points throughout the trip, each guest said he did not deserve this kind of treat. There were others, they all said, who were more heroic, who sacrificed more.
And yet, when one reads their combat records, you see the wounds, the multiple deployments, the outstanding service. These 10 men experienced hell on earth … and survived.
The least we could was reunite them with their brothers. And what an amazing place to do that.
The Marines enjoyed exploring the ranch on ATVs, as well as in the saddle. One veteran admitted that he’d never been close enough to touch a horse. But Frank, at the stables, gave him and another new rider his undivided attention and they embarked on their first trail ride ever.
Friends of the ranch manager volunteered their time, equipment, and boats so that the veterans could try out fly fishing on the Shoshone River. Four hours later, everyone had caught their share of fish, and two novice fishermen had found a new pursuit.
Freedom Alliance organized an expedition one day to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in nearby Cody, a multiplex of five museums dedicated to America’s West. The most popular with the Marines by far was the Cody Firearms Museum!
While in town that evening the servicemen attended the rodeo, which is the longest-running in the nation. The audience of the Cody Nite Rodeo recognized the Freedom Alliance veterans in an resounding ovation of gratitude.
Another day was spent in Yellowstone National Park, where the Marines visited Excelsior Geyser, Dragon’s Mouth Spring, Artist Point, and Old Faithful. Throughout the park, they saw Yellowstone’s iconic herds of buffalo. They even ate a picnic lunch, which had been prepared and packed with care back at the Double E.
It was an incredible five days, with too many highlights to keep track of.
Two of our guests, Jose and Juan, are brothers from Chicago. This was the first time they had ever been in a rural area outside of their combat experience. It did wonders for them and for everyone.
One of the Marines, who had been suffering from terrible anxiety, said he did not need his medication while on this trip. He was amazed, since he almost stayed home, having been in such agony.
Other guests mentioned how unusually well they slept at the ranch!
On the last night in Wyoming, dinner was cooked over a campfire. The Marines presented their hosts with a signed Phantom Fury flag, which was made by Flags of Valor (a veteran-owned company near the Freedom Alliance headquarters) to show their appreciation.
The next day, 10 Marines left the Double E Ranch, flying each to their respective homes. The ranch carried on as normal, and Freedom Alliance got back to helping other veterans.
But none of us will forget the Phantom Fury reunion, nor the men who braved the battle.