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.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

New Memories from Valhalla

Submitted by Sergeant Ben H. 

Valhallan Ben
Finally. After a few months of rolling the memories of my stay at The Valhalla Project around my head, I think I am ready to talk about what it did for me. Just two days with Gordon and Chris was more therapy then anything I had experienced. When my brother Matt Fisk suggested we visit The Valhalla Project, I thought we would be there to pick their brains about running a veterans retreat. I had no idea how that two days would be the catalyst for me to get back in control of my life.

Matt and I were roomies back in 2004 while in Sadr City, Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. To say that what we faced during that time changed us would be a huge over-simplification.

Ben, back when...
On the morning of April 5th, 2014, our task force honored the men we lost in combat at the 1St Cavalry Division Headquarters OIF\OEF Memorial. That ceremony really showed me how much we still need each other, how the events of that deployment established us as a family. After leaving the service in 2005, I isolated myself. My physical injuries stripped my active lifestyle away, and the growing list of medications the VA was prescribing me was slowly taking my motivation to do anything. 

Reestablishing relationships with the soldiers that I served with made me realize how important we are to each other. The unique situations we faced shaped us into what we are now, for better or worse. The weekend of that memorial service was very bitter sweet. From a distance I bet we looked strange, because we seemed to display similar physical traits. I kept noticing how many of us were wearing the same shoes, walking the same slightly off balance way. The sheer number of warriors who had survived massive trauma events was incredible. It was easy to see that we have made great leaps forward in protecting our troops and also in keeping them alive despite severe injuries. It amazes me when I hear about some of the things my brothers have lived through. 

Ben holding Betty, one of Valhalla's chickens.
Not long after that Matt and I met up to visit The Valhalla Project. We had come to the conclusion that we needed to do something ourselves to help heal some of damage that results in combat deployments. Gordon and Chris have made Valhalla an oasis for warriors. The food was healthy, tasty, and filling. The external stressors that make reintegrating into everyday life are gone while you are there. The daily noises are of the animals that provide therapy and nourishment. There is a peaceful balance with the land that is hard to explain. 

At this point I have to admit to a bit of hero worship. Gordon Cucullu is a verifiable badass. Some of my favorite books as a teen were written about the soldiers and marines that fought on the ground in Vietnam. The men I held in the highest esteem when I read those books were MAC V SOG. These men were hard as woodpecker lips, as the saying goes. Gordon is one of those men, unafraid of the odds, undeterred by pain or threat. A true Patriot, Gordon is sharing his experiences with living and adjusting after combat with the newest group of American warriors.

It's not all just about Gordon though, Chris has a huge impact on the warriors that stay at Valhalla. Her relentless drive to feed visitors with healthy, fresh foods is obvious by the animation she displays on her face while she talks about it. I had a lot of fun working with her in the garden, picking her brain trying to incorporate what I was learning into my life. I left Valhalla motivated to do all I could to live healthy. Thanks Chris! By the way, I am now medication free! 

Writing this is bittersweet, because I think every day about my time with Gordon and Chris. I can still hear Matt talking to the turkeys every five minutes, and the raucous answer they always provided. I came home relaxed, ready to step out and take life by the horns again. Thanks! 

* * *
The Valhalla Project needs your help and support
We need YOUR help to keep Valhalla functioning efficiently - while at the same time expanding vitally important programs to assist post-9/11 combat veterans and war zone civilian workers to transition back into the civilian world. 


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!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Conversations with the Old Vet - Are Veterans "Broken"?



A veteran asks: “Sure some of my family and friends say, ‘We love you and want to help,’ but do these feeling reflect a desire to reconcile the real me, the way I am now with all of my experiences, back into their lives? Or are they trying desperately to mold me back into what I was before deployment?”

Like most things in life, maybe the answer is “a little bit of both.” You need to understand from the start that this isn’t anything new. A catchy WWI song asked the question “How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?” No one had a satisfactory answer to that then, and they don’t now.

Even if you had deployed into a non-combat zone you would be changed by your experiences. Layer that with the intensity of combat and figure you’re going to change even more from the person you were – and remain – in the minds of your family and friends. Accept it. It happens and there’s not a damn thing you or they can do to reverse the process.

So, when friends and family fail to accomplish the patently impossible – to make you back into “how you used to be,” how many then reject you or give up on you as somehow “broken” or “unfit to re-integrate” into society? Or what might be even worse, label you as a “victim” deserving of their pity. Far too many. That goes to explain why vets usually seek out battle buddies or other vets to talk to. They get it. Civilians simply can’t.

Of course you’re going to feel isolated, frustrated, and alone – who wouldn’t? Even when surrounded by caring civilians who want to help but don’t know how. Worse, for the veteran this loneliness can quickly become guilt and self-blame that too often then becomes a desire to end the misery. This fact is the core of why suicide rates among combat veterans has reached a crisis point.

Listen up! The widespread lack of comprehension of your experiences and situation from the civilian world may come with an unspoken message that you have failed as a person in some way. After all, if they are “normal” and you don’t meet their expectations of that norm, then civilians around you won’t know what to say and thus begin to feel uncomfortable and their discomfort becomes “your” fault. Even if not outright rejected, you may be held at arm’s length.

Add into the mix the endless sources that feed into this myth of the “broken veteran:” Entertainment industry, politicians, self-appointed “experts,” commentators, medical professionals, even the government gets into the act.

There are the government agencies and medical professionals eager to reinforce such misperceptions. Post-traumatic stress is labeled a “disorder,” and has become an industry. It’s viewed as something that needs to be “cured” or somehow fixed. If on the other hand, as USMC General James “Mad Dog” Mattis says, “it’s really post-traumatic growth,” then maybe you’re stronger than you were previously and such strength is unrecognized. Maybe you are not even aware of it. But it’s there.

Veterans have been openly targeted as prime suspects for domestic terrorism and some politicians proclaim that you, the veteran, ought to be denied possession of weapons and should alert neighborhoods of your combat experience so that precautions can be taken to thwart anticipated hostile actions.

Bottom line is that both government and society have exacerbated the predictable sense of isolation that you may sometimes experience by falsely labeling all veterans as potential ticking time bombs and by drugging too many of you into insensibility.

It’s past time for someone to call “bullshit!” Many have rejected these practices and we at Valhalla Project are among them. We have seen veterans, perhaps just like you – both former service members and war zone civilian contractors – arrive here stressed to the max. Within days they have been able to slough off much of the tension, relax, get involved with projects outside of themselves, talk with their contemporaries, and develop a renewed sense of purpose, confidence, and self-worth.

If you are a post-9/11 combat vet or qualified war zone civilian and are troubled by a sense of isolation then consider a stay at Valhalla Project. We can’t promise anything other than a peaceful, secure environment, lots of meaningful projects to involve you, a place to relax in the outdoors, and an understanding ear from other combat veterans.
If you think you’re pretty squared away, then come down for a stay to help your fellow veterans and get a break from your everyday life.

You can stay for days, weeks, or months. Chow is good and provided as is lodging. You will be required to participate in daily activities and special projects. You will get outside and get dirty. You will learn about homesteading and independent living. Things like livestock and poultry, permaculture design and implementation, intensive growing techniques, and off-grid construction will stimulate you mentally and physically.

We have fun, too. Fishing, hunting in season, hiking, camping, dunks in the swimming hole, outdoor cooking, wildlife, and more are readily available.

Contact us by email or phone is you think you’d be interested. Be assured that at Valhalla you will not be isolated but in friendly company.
* * *
The Valhalla Project needs your help and support
Just getting a project like Valhalla up and running has required a significant investment in time, money, and labor. With roughly $500,000 already invested over the last two years into the Valhalla Project for property acquisition, feeding and housing Soldier participants, infrastructure and facility improvements, animal purchases and feed, tools and building supplies, forest and pasture management expenses, and much much more, resources are running thin. We need YOUR help to keep Valhalla functioning efficiently - while at the same time expanding vitally important programs to assist post-9/11 combat Soldiers and war zone civilian workers to transition back into the civilian world. 


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!

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.