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! 

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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. 

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