This Valhalla Project blog provides updates on the 200-acre pilot property in the Ozark mountains with information on construction, farming,
animal husbandry, and future energy programs. Valhalla has established a very special retreat and reintegration facility for post-911 combat
veterans and war zone civilian workers transitioning back into the civilian world; see our "Valhalla Vision" page for an overview.

NEW: see our Frequently Asked Questions page for more detailed information about the Valhalla Project
and how to apply.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Captain Matt: "Damned if I ain't laughing"

Army Captain Matt with Erica just outside
of Valhalla's Duckton Abbey
Submitted by Army Captain Matt

No feces, there I was, ankle deep in scat; ducks closing in from the left; chickens closing from the right.  My feed reserves were running low, and it looked doubtful that I would make it out of the paddock without a good pecking.  The day at Valhalla had only begun and already my meager coping skills were being taxed most cruelly.  On a positive note it looked as if I might get the opportunity to execute a duck with a lame foot.  If said deposition could occur in the poultry town square it might serve as a warning to the others.  The thought of a duck head mounted on a tiny pike warmed my cold little heart. 

Most of the oblivious, cud-chewing masses whom we of the teeth and claws protect would stand aghast at my expressions of poultra-phobia.  Warriors, even those going soft around the middle like me, harden themselves in the strangest ways while leaving a very few, hidden spots surprisingly vulnerable.  My negative memories of all things fowl force me to wrap the morning’s interaction with the common yard bird in silly, if macabre, imagery to find my happy place.  I’m much more callous than I once was, evolved by ugly places and ugly people.  Gordon and Chris understand.  But that doesn’t stop them from ribbing me about it. 

The rest of the morning unfolds without the usual calamity of the outside world with its noise, ceaselessly vain activity and inane chatter.  It’s so quiet as I follow Chris from one animal pen to another that for a moment the voices of the ghosts in my head also fall silent.  We cast feed into the troughs of hungry ungulates who acknowledge the offering with gluttonous gratitude and talk quietly about trivial things.  I learn about their Turkish sheep dog, their homicidal goat and the numerous breeds of turkey, one of which has adopted a baby chicken.  The large tom turkeys and I quickly develop a positive relationship.  I find that every time I raise my hands and gobble, the toms respond in chorus as if approving the speech of a power-mad turkey dictator.  Damned if I ain’t laughing.  In fact, I notice that I have been laughing a lot.

Matt and his buddy Ben served together in
Iraq and were finally able to reconnect
face-to-face, for the first time in years, during
their stay at the Valhalla Project property.
After chores I share coffee with Gordon (a fantastic brew, by the way) and listen to the quiet professional tell quiet stories that leave me with my mental mouth hanging open.  Even more amazing to me is that he graciously listens as my brother and I talk about things which seemed to happen long ago to someone else.  Somehow, sharing  memories of  horror and pain with these people who have been there comes easy.  You instinctively understand that you are seated at the table with a fellow warrior who has gone through hell himself and come out whole on the other side.  It suddenly seems possible that you can do it, too.

Later, we tour the 200 sprawling acres of hills, grass and trees and learn about permaculture, a concept with which I am wholly unfamiliar yet find astonishing.  As our hosts speak at length about swales, native grasses, water capture and animal cultivators I begin to see their vision in my mind’s eye: a self-sustaining ecosystem implemented and tended by warriors.  It’s a vista of principles which I find appealing in the absolute: simplicity, self-reliance, loyalty, selflessness.  It connects me to who I used to be in a powerful way and also shines a light on the path to who I want to be.

We learn so much in 48 hours that I at times I am forced to disengage and work myself into a sweat to process it.  The only way I could have received more is if I hadn’t missed the turn off to the ranch three times.   In my own defense I must blame the current administration whose policies have driven me so far to the right that I didn’t look left and thus missed the small red and white sign.

Two days later I regret not having two more weeks to spend among the critters, crops and quiet solitude of the Valhalla Project.  I was drawn to the name by my Norwegian heritage and genetic predeliction for violence and pointy hats.  Valhalla, the promise of rest as only a warrior could fully appreciate it.  I will be back as soon as I am able.  Next time I will plan a longer stay, long enough to access the ancient, soothing rhythms that reconnect a death dealer to life.  But chickens beware.


* * *
The Valhalla Project needs your help and support!


The Valhalla Project is a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity recognized by the IRS.
Nobody, including cadre or board members, draws a paycheck here, nor will they ever: we simply give everything we have to make Valhalla possible. 100% of your donation via Paypal will go directly to program expenses, period. If you'd prefer to instead directly donate four new tractor tire, a truckload of straw bales, a pallet of dimension lumber, or even a few dozen 10' sheets of forest green tin roofing, that would be absolutely wonderful - yet perhaps polking the "Donate" button above to contribute $10, $20, 
$50 or even more might be a little easier and more practical!

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Power of Action

Decades ago an entrepreneur named Napoleon Hill wrote a timeless work titled Think and Grow Rich. While read by millions since, most readers focus on the initial title word, “think,” and relatively few grasp the core concept. Hill urges readers to visualize the end they seek then move with absolute commitment toward attainment of that goal by acting in a decisive, well-planned manner.

In other words, thought without action equates to form without substance. Form may have value as a step toward awareness or as a means of calling attention to a goal, but absent action will always remain ineffectual.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

What is Valhalla Project exactly?


We get that question a lot. Valhalla is a unique operation set up to assist combat veterans and war zone civilians with a special place to decompress while at the same time gaining new skills useful for rebuilding your lives following years of military service. 

We teach homesteading skills on a large ranch as a vehicle and method for building your self confidence in transitioning back into the civilian world. Off-grid construction, solar energy, permaculture design and implementation, livestock and poultry management, wildlife and forestry, outdoor recreation, and "getting back to basics" provide new skills and topics to talk about with civilians who simply cannot identify with your previous warzone experiences.


Army vet Ben with chick hatched at Valhalla
Valhalla serves as a valuable testing ground for those of you who are thinking about starting your own private homestead. Those who fully intend on returning to urban or city environments will still take

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Veteran Isolation: Conversations with the Old Vet


The Valhalla Project “Old Vet” is Gordon Cucullu, co-founder. His comments are based on real-life conversations we’ve had with Valhalla veteran participants and will appear frequently on our page. If you have questions or comments about decompression, transition, dealing with troubling issues, or things related, please send them to us.
 
Then: With SFC Harold Lane, Korea, 1970

Now:  Skills practice at Valhalla - 2014


“I feel like I’m all by myself, isolated with nobody to talk to. I never talk to my family or civilian friends about my experiences,” a veteran told me. “They don’t understand and never will, so I just avoid the subject.”

We hear this repeatedly from contemporary vets. So often that it has become a mantra. Why is this such a universal phenomenon?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Veterans Day Weekend 2013 at Valhalla

Some of the Veterans Day Weekend 2013 participants outside
the Valhalla Main House after an exciting day building a swale,
constructing the new DeToy Sheep Chalet, preparing and sharing
delicious meals from scratch, and taking care of the farm animals.
Veterans Day Weekend 2013 here at Valhalla came down to a wonderful mix of veterans working alongside dedicated and supportive civilian volunteers -- it was a weekend of permaculture, building a new Sheep Chalet, excellent chow, a wonderful new library, endlessly curious turkeys, and a completed green house roof mixed in with lots of laughter and fun at every turn! It was all made possible through generous donations by people just like you, plus many hours of effort by eager participants doing their part in making the Valhalla Vision into a reality to benefit and honor America's post-9/11 veterans for many decades to come.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Permaculture at the Valhalla Project, Phase 1

Celebrating after hand-seeding and mulching
Valhalla's first swale, one of many permaculture
features that will protect the property from future
droughts while dramatically improving the soil over time.
The Valhalla Project is now well on the way to designing, implementing, and maintaining a comprehensive permaculture system.

Before we get to details, let's review terms. What is permaculture and how do you learn about it?

A compound word for "permanent agriculture" (a term coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren), permaculture is a system that takes into account as many factors as possible in order to transform land in a way that mimics nature -- that is, to develop a low-maintenance, perennial growing system for the benefit of human beings, farm animals, and wildlife as well.

There is a lot more to it than that, but this gives you a general concept. It's easy to find information about permaculture: books, videos, chat rooms, and blogs from around the world address the subject, either in whole or in part. This article describes the Valhalla Project's first permaculture experiences in the Ozark region of Arkansas, through projects designed to teach and otherwise benefit post-9/11 combat Soldiers, veterans, and civilian war zone workers who also served with them downrange.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

In time for hunting season: Valhalla's new multi-purpose Park Lounge

Sneak preview of Valhalla's new Park Lounge,
initially built with hunters in mind yet ultimately
became a true multipurpose workspace.
This is the story of how a simple wish for a clean sanitary counter space to cut up some venison steaks became an epic project at Valhalla during the summer of 2013. After dozens of hours, tons of materials, and some major plumbing and electrical rewiring tasks, Valhalla now has a multipurpose Park Lounge that functions as a screened-in outside kitchen with hidden
pantries, a laundry room, a mud room, a butcher shop, a food preservation workspace, and even a

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Valhalla's quick-and-easy arched cattle panel housing units

Arched cattle panel units have proven to be invaluable here at Valhalla for housing various groups of ducks, chickens, turkeys, and goats -- they can also be used as simple garden storage lockers or even as green houses when covered with plastic during the winter. They are inexpensive to construct yet still very strong; they can be predator-proofed if needed; they can be linked together into stationary rows or mounted on wheels, and; they are extremely easy for even an inexperienced individual to build all alone (without any help at all) in less than a day.

Valhalla's Hospital Row is a secured area where injured farm animals can recover in a quiet setting, and
also where chickens, turkeys, and duck hens can safely hatch and raise their young without disruptions
from their main flocks. The two units on the left are roughly 8' wide x 8' deep x 6' high. The third unit
has an additional panel to create a 12' deep interior for housing a flock of broody duck hens with their
ducklings, while the open unit on the far right was under construction when this photo was taken.

Sergeant Jen with Iraqi war veteran Francis in front of the nearly
completed the 16' long panel unit that is described in this tutorial.
A great number of people have asked us for detailed instructions on exactly how to build these inexpensive and versatile animal housing units. Sergeant Jen therefore volunteered to demonstrate how to build one for this step-by-step tutorial on how cattle panel units are built here at Valhalla, along with notes on lessons learned in the course of constructing more than a dozen units around the property. 

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: this tutorial describes how cattle panel units are built here at Valhalla without any claims that this is the very "best" way to do it! There are many different ways to approach construction of cattle panel units. This tutorial simply describes Valhalla's current approach after a lot of trial and error.