The Lone Survivor Foundation restores, empowers, and renews hope for our wounded service members and their families through health, wellness, and therapeutic support.
Many may recognize the name "Lone Survivor" from the 2007 New York Times best-selling book telling the story of Marcus Luttrell's experience in Afghanistan during "Operation Redwing." Luttrell's own experience of recovery after that event is what inspired him to create the Lone Survivor Foundation. Luttrell wanted the foundation to be a means of providing more options of care for both physically and mentally wounded veteran from all eras.
I first heard about the foundation through a friend who thought I might be interested in volunteering by doing wilderness events. I made contact with Morgan Sierra—the face of the Lone Survivor Foundation in Fayetteville, NC—near Fort Bragg. She was conducting an informational event at a local business to put people in touch with the organization. I met her that evening and identified myself as a veteran, local law enforcement officer, and the owner of a small wilderness activities company. I explained to her my interest in assisting the organization as best I could.
I wanted to volunteer and assist our country's service members. I soon received a phone call from Mrs. Sierra, who asked me if I would be interested in attending a retreat in Texas for veterans who are now active law enforcement. I was interested in attending but honestly, I did not think that I deserved to attend a retreat as my military service had been during a time of conflict but it had not been in a combat zone. I spent the next few days thinking it over and with the help of a friend—who is the executive director of a local rape crisis non-profit—I made my decision to attend.
I really could not endorse the organization without knowing what kind of treatment they were providing. My friend, the executive director, also wanted to know about the retreat's activities from a person not connected to the organization who would attend and vet the organization and process before recommending military sexual trauma victims to attend. But in reality, I was needing a helping hand as the last 18 years of law enforcement has been a rough road.
I've been through what most law enforcement officers have experienced. The critical incidents layered one on top of the other for so many years made me angry, self-destructive, and cynical. I was suffering from depression and was spiraling down the drain as it came to my career. I was cautious and unwilling to outright ask for help. If an agency feels you may be slipping, their action in most cases is to suspend you from the job, isolate you, threatening your livelihood and sending you deeper down that spiral. All of the above, either individually or collectively, may bring you to the edge of making a permanent solution to a temporary problem. As we know, too many of our brothers and sisters who wear the badge have already made that decision.
During July of 2018, I was able to attend the Lone Survivor Foundation's Law Enforcement Officer Retreat for veterans at Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas. The foundation paid for the flight from Raleigh, NC, to Houston, TX. The Lone Survivor Foundation handled all expenses—all I had to do was make the time to attend and get on the flight.
My first impression of the staff was that they were friendly and caring. The ride was about an hour and a half to catch a ferry from Galveston to the peninsula. The ferry ride had dolphins swimming and jumping next to the boat on a perfect coastal day. As apprehensive as I was, the ride and surroundings had already begun to relax me.
I arrived at the private retreat facility and looked out from the balcony and I could see the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The facility looked like a vacation home. Once all the participants had arrived we met for introductions and an overview of what to expect during the weekend. The staff made it clear that this weekend was not a recreational weekend as the days would be filled with opportunities to work on problems that you as an individual were dealing with. We were told that we didn't have to do any activity or treatment that made us uncomfortable.
Once the briefing was over it was dinner time. The food was incredible—this is not a retreat where you will lose weight.
With our bellies stuffed, the rest of the night was ours and we were free to walk to the beach or unwind in our individual rooms. We all gathered by the firepit later that evening for a relaxing conversation. What impressed me the most that night was that the therapists who we would be working with us sat and participated in the conversations without judgment. I was expecting the staff to disconnect themselves from the group once the official activities had ended. Instead they hung out and a bond of friendship soon began to develop.
Friday morning began with an early yoga session. Only four of the seven participated in the session. We followed our therapeutic yoga instructor lead on the upper deck of the house overlooking the gulf. It was picturesque, as the morning sun shined on us. Thirty minutes later it was breakfast time. We all sat at a large table, staff included, and had breakfast.
We were then off to our first group educational session, which lasted an hour or so. We discussed post traumatic growth, chronic pain, and coping skills for everyday life. The session was educational and informative. But, as with all training, you have to be willing to have an open mind and accept the information being given. I was willing to do just that, sharing my actual thoughts as no one associated with my agency was listening.
We then broke down into two groups of three and four and began our next sessions. One group did trauma-informed yoga while the other conducted Equine Assisted Learning using the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association method.
My group began with Yoga aimed at assisting in coping with stress and physical pain. The sessions were not your typical yoga experience. There was no chanting, bell ringing, or "Namaste" that turns most "Type A" personalities off. The session provided information and techniques to assist in elevating chronic pain and breathing practices to reduce stress. Most of us experience those typical aging pains that are magnified by spending extended time sitting in a patrol car or at a desk.
Next we were off to the horse arena to conduct our Equine Assisted Learning. It began with education on horses and how they are intuitive and mirror our own emotions and reactions. I unfortunately did not get as much of a benefit from the EAL as I have had horses and cattle in my life previously. But it was still an educational experience that I enjoyed because I was interacting with the horses, which I no longer am able to regularly be around.
Back to the facility we went and enjoyed our second outstanding meal of the day. Comforted by food, we began our individual sessions. Mine began with Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART), an eye-movement counseling that works to stop distressful images from continuously running through your thoughts. I shared my experience of a shooting I had recently been involved in. I felt betrayed by my agency in the aftermath. The anger I felt fueled my depression and gave me a toxic personality to be around. The ART session was successful for me as I was able to isolate what was the major contributor to my depression.
The next individual session was Neurofeedback. This is an advanced form of biofeedback using electroencephalography technology to measure brain activity through a non-invasive technique. The provider explained to me about my brainwave patterns and how to train our brains to function in a healthier state.
Finishing out our first day was information on the Alpha-Stim, a cranial electrotherapy stimulation device that is used to treat depression, insomnia, anxiety, and pain. We each had been given an opportunity to use the device and information on how to obtain a device of our own through the Veterans Administration.
Each day continued with more of the same treatments, from yoga in the morning to ending with light social conversations around the firepit. I found myself relaxed and I had created a bond with the other participants and the staff who worked with us.
By the time I left the retreat I was a hundred times better than when I arrived. I was given the knowledge and tools to assist me in coping with the stresses of day-to-day work. My depression and anger toward my agency had dissipated though understanding. I have come to terms with my perceived betrayal and understand that it was only damaging me in the end. I was restored with a new feeling of hope.
If you feel—as I had—that you need a hand up, please reach out to the Lone Survivor Foundation—you will not regret it. If you know someone who needs help, reach out to them and tell them about the Foundation. The story of my experience is only one of many. The information you will provide to the foundation is completely confidential and your agency does not have to know you are seeking assistance. Reaching out for assistance is OK—you are stronger for doing so.