Veterans Connecting Through a Shared Interest
The mission of Team Red, White & Blue is alive and well, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the great state of Texas under the leadership of selfless Americans like Gary Bartels. Gary is always seeking out new opportunities to connect with fellow Veterans. He uses athletic events, clay shooting, and most recently deer hunting in order to help reintegrate returning Veterans and give them a sense of camaraderie and purpose. Following a recent hunting trip, Damon Ponder had this to say about the experience:
“I want to thank Gary J. Bartels Jr for the awesome opportunity to hunt, and Team RWB for giving Veterans like myself a chance to come out and do something that is not only fun, but good for our souls as well. Many of us, myself included, come back from combat feeling completely removed from society and the friendships that we built in the military. This opportunity has not only given me the chance to do something that brings back memories of boyhood sitting in a deer stand with my papa, but just as important it has provided a chance to meet a great group of guys that I can honestly call friends, which is something I haven’t had since leaving the military. It has always seemed strange to me to be called a hero after returning from combat because there were so many Americans who payed the ultimate sacrifice for their country. And furthermore, there are guys like Gary who gave everything I did, and yet continue to give back to returning Veterans. Team RWB, and guys like Gary, are my heroes. They give selflessly, not because they have to, but because they want to. Team RWB, you guys have no idea the difference that you make in the lives of Veterans like myself! Thank you for being friends, and helping in more ways than I can express in words. This helps me to go home and be a better father to the little girl that matters in my life. Thank You!”
It is amazing how such a simple outing can have such an impact on the healing process and reparation of those invisible wounds from serving in combat. Here is what Gary had to say about the experience:
“When I transitioned from the military, I knew that I would miss “giving back” and “defending”. At one point in my life, I would sit and cry because I no longer felt the sense of duty, brotherhood, teamwork and belonging that I had once felt in the military. For me, it was never a “I think it would be great to…”, but a “I absolutely have to…” in terms of mentoring, supporting and enabling our Veterans in order for me to recreate that sense of comaraderie and brotherhood. It came to be that I was at one of the darkest points in my life in that I had no outlet from which to figuratively and literally wrap my arms around our Veterans and tell them that “I can relate to what you’re feeling, and I’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with you as we meet and beat this challenge”. I first started as a fundraising athlete for Wounded Warrior Project, but soon realized that the approach they used was not the proper solution, or at least it was not for me. I desired a more personal connection, one that would not only benefit this returning Hero, but also myself. I found that avenue of approach with Team RWB. In the short time I’ve known Damon and went hunting with him, we both realized that the actual sitting in a deer blind is more of an enjoyment and shared interest, although the peace and quiet is very therapeutic. But when he and I go back to the deer camp, talk around the campfire, and venture back to the days of when we were part of a Team that wore the mighty US flag on our right shoulder; we punished tyranny not for ourselves, but for the brother to our left and to our right. We realize that we have fought similar fights, both in a combat arena, and upon returning home. We are bonded, brother to brother, and little does he know, but our friendship and our interaction is healing my wounds and my soul daily. For Damon, and for those like him, I will continue to serve.”
The call to action is clear – let’s continue to find new and creative ways to connect with Veterans. Thanks Gary, Damon and Team RWB Texas for continuously breaking the mold and finding new ways to build our community and heal the wounds of Veterans.