After much planning and expectation, the Freedom Alliance staff could hardly wait for the date of the Wyoming retreat to come around. When the calendar finally caught up, they had their bags packed, ready to dash off to the airport.
The Double E Ranch in the Wapiti Valley, next to Yellowstone Park, was the site of this Heroes’ Retreat. Our team and our guests were equally dazzled by the magnificent scenery and the warm hospitality shown them.
Our hosts Eric and Stacy, along with ranch manager Troy, helped us greet and make welcome the 10 service members we invited to the Double E. All suffer serious disability from their combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, including gun-shot wounds and brain injuries as a result of explosions.
For example, Derrick served with the U.S. Army in Baghdad and was thought dead after a rocket attack. Although doctors didn’t hold much hope, the soldier proved them all wrong. After brain surgery and extensive rehabilitation, he’s lost the use of his right hand and eye and he “moves a little slower” than he used to, but that Derrick is with us at all is a miracle.
Steve is a Marine who fought in the Battle of Fallujah in 2004. When a bomb detonated under the vehicle he was riding in, killing the machine gunner, he was rushed stateside for emergency treatment to save his life.
All 10 have exceptional stories of sacrifice and resilience, and the staff at the Double E Ranch made these special guests feel at home and valued.
The servicemen enjoyed home-cooked, family-style meals; a two-and-a-half-hour trail ride by horseback into the mountains surrounding the ranch; a guided fly-fishing expedition to river rapids; trips into the scenic town of Cody, the “Rodeo Capital of the World”; boating, tubing, cliff-jumping, quad-running, and more; but also those all-important periods of rest and fellowship.
Together we visited the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a complex of museums featuring artifacts and exhibits that tell the story of the American West. (The Cody Firearms museum was most popular with our veterans!)
We also attended the Cody Nite Rodeo, the longest-running rodeo, performing nightly shows each summer for the last 77 years. Our guests were recognized by an animated audience and we all appreciated the action-packed entertainment.
During our stay, we spent a day in Yellowstone National Park, visiting attractions such as Old Faithful, Dragon’s Mouth Spring, and Artist Point. Colletta, from the ranch, had prepared and packed us a lovely picnic lunch, which was devoured.
While in the park, we dodged buffalo and sleet, the latter of which held off until the drive back to the Double E. How wonderful to be welcomed into the ranch house by a blazing fire and the hearty savor of Colletta’s Italian cooking!
On the last day, we arose for an early-morning hike to watch the sunrise. The men could choose from a variety of activities during the day, which led to a final campfire meal and s’mores.
With bittersweet gratitude, we presented Eric and Stacy with framed photos, signed by the veterans, and words of thanks. The retreat concluded with fireworks over the lake and a serene mountain moon.
This, our first, Heroes’ Retreat was a boon and a beauty. And it won’t be the last, as we are making preparations for next year’s event!
And again, our heroes reminded us how momentous these events can be:
“It feels like I was dreaming,” said Noah, one of our Marines, who has served as a scout and a sniper, as well as an agent for diplomatic security and maritime/anti-piracy security.
Another Marine, Sean, said, “It really helped me open up and express myself to some new people. My wife was very pleased that I made such progress.”
Derrick, who survived the rocket attack in Iraq, wrote about the benefit of the Wyoming retreat in a post titled “Buoyed” for his Small Victories blog:
“The warmth, kindness and love I felt throughout the week will keep me uplifted as I return to my family, friends, and daily routine… Whenever we are able to help keep one another above water, we are able to share a small victory.”