Since last year’s sequel to this annual outdoor event, we have begun to speculate that there is something medicinal, if not altogether miraculous in the waters of Oregon’s Rogue River.
Not long ago, Freedom Alliance had the privilege of leading the third series of men to Grants Pass, Oregon, where on the banks of the Rogue River they would, we hoped, leave the unpleasant experiences of war behind to embark on a journey like no other.
With their physical impairments, emotional stress, and pressed souls, eleven veterans, most strangers to one another before, became crew mates and confidantes, buoying each other up for a 65-mile, four-day trek along the picturesque Rogue.
This year’s Rogue River adventure met our expectations of years past, and the men came away feeling changed:
“After being told by my doctor I couldn’t work for at least until January because of the stress, depression, anxiety, and hyper-vigilance, I fell into a dark place,” one traveler said.
“A place I have been many, many times before—and spent a very long time crawling out of. This pulled me out quick, fast, and in a hurry… It was great to feel the freedom of no worries. I felt like my old self again.”
One of our guests was an Army staff sergeant named Rob, who in 2011 was shot in the head by an Iraqi soldier. After recovering from a brain injury for many months at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and various other treatment facilities, Rob is now at home with his wife and two sons.
His father-in-law, Octavio, was asked to accompany Rob on the Rogue River trip to help his son-in-law navigate the airports, but also to honor his 20 years of service in the U.S. Army.
Rob said of Octavio, “When I was injured, my father-in-law, a retired disabled first sergeant, moved into our home for 20 months to raise our boys so that my wife could be with me at Walter Reed.
“He came on this trip to help me and I spent time with him that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I saw him in a different light, and I was able to truly appreciate him because of this trip. He has sacrificed so much for my family and has been a steady rock for us. Sharing such a cool experience with him … I will remember it for the rest of my life.”
This remarkable bond was a kind of mirror of the whole reason this event came to be. Father- and son-in-law Jerry Schuld and Mike Dawson approached Freedom Alliance three years ago with the idea; Jerry and his wife, Peggy, have funded the event year after year.
Mike, who helps us coordinate the trip, traditionally hosts the servicemen at his ranch outside of Grants Pass for an initiation dinner. Then, at the conclusion of the six days in Oregon, Jerry and Mike give another farewell dinner.
They both look forward to that final meal because they get to see the change in the men. A group that was once unaccustomed to each other then banter and revel like old friends, and all the anxiety and discomfort vanishes.
As one soldier put it, “We were on a mission, we had that sense of camaraderie, and we got to sit around and tell stories, jokes, and I even learned a few things about myself. I got to experience all the good parts of being deployed.”
Briggs Rogue River Trips, with six captains and six drift boats, guided our crew during the days on the river. These expert boatmen ensured that our fellows safely experienced the best the river had to offer.
The vets caught masses of trout, and the Briggs captains prepared and cooked the fish during recurring picnics on the river bank, which very well might be the best part of the deal. The owner of the outfit, who has spent most of his life of the Rogue, sent desserts, baked by his wife, to complement the meals.
The awe-inspiring surroundings and carefree pace made an impact on the men. Jesse, a six-foot, six-inch combat medic, injured by a blast in Iraq, took a flying leap off a 40-foot-tall rock into the chilly river, yelling, “Rangers lead the way!”
Meanwhile, the men found soulful connections to one another. At each night’s lodging, the attachments grew stronger and deeper.
The staff of the Riverside Inn welcomed the troops with gifts and notes of appreciation. Black Bar, Marial, and Lucas Lodges—rustic overnight cabins along the Rogue—offered their finest meals and charming accommodations.
By the last night together, the men were content to sit around a fire and open their hearts—to nature, to laughter, to peace, to each other.
“What I take most from this trip is the sound of the river waters far ahead,” said Staff Sergeant Kenny, who survived spinal cord damage, paralysis, and a traumatic brain injury.
“It was very relaxing, and the sound completely emptied every and all thoughts I may have had running in my mind.” Kenny continued, “The sight of the eagles diving down to pick up a fish, along with the laughs and bonds created with all in the group.
“I could feel the stress of everyday distractions gone—nothing but you, the people accompanying you, and the great outdoors.”
From Jerry and Mike and all the rest at Freedom Alliance … to Rogue River alumni and future “Rogues”:
Whether at home, in hospital, on the battlefield, or around base, may the peace of the river stay with you—every hour, every day.
We thank you for your service.