USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore hosted a group at Patriot Point this past week that included a pair of recovering service members from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and five members of the USAF Honor Guard stationed at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, who regularly are on duty at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
The group arrived this past Thursday night and stayed until Saturday, taking part in a goose and duck hunt, but “more importantly, they were able to enjoy the quietness that winter on Patriot Point offers,” said John Falin, USO-Metro’s Director of Center Operations, noting that the opportunity for the service members to leave their respective military installation and get away was much needed.
“This is a fantastic opportunity to get out of the daily rituals and really enjoy some R&R in nature,” Falin said. “The service members that go down to Patriot Point, they love being out in nature, hiking the trails, joking around a bonfire, and enjoying each other’s company. It’s just a way for them to have a mini-vacation without the hassles of city life.”
The Military Warriors Support Foundation recently brought a group of eight combat-wounded veterans to Patriot Point as part of its Skills4Life program. The veterans came from across the country – Kansas City, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia and Maryland for a four-day visit that included goose hunting, duck hunting, five-stand shooting and a pool tournament.
“Just the normal winter stuff,” said David Dougherty, director of the MWSF Skills4Life program. “They talk about their stories, who they know, what happened to them.”
One of the guests, a former Navy SEAL, had been to Patriot Point once before, right after an accident that saw him step on an IED and lose both of his legs, Dougherty said. “To see the growth in that young man and him opening up and having fun and communicating with the guys was incredible,” Dougherty said. “You could see he let his guard down probably more than he has in years.”
Jeff Cleland, a Marine veteran, was on his first trip to Patriot Point and left very impressed.
“I get so caught up in life with work and family that I often forget to take care of myself,” Cleland said. “This past week was a reminder of how much I missed being with vets who have similar experiences and Patriot Point was the right mix of relaxing and active. I will be back as many times as they will have me.”
Freedom Hunters recently hosted a group of five decorated combat veterans at Patriot Point. Among the group were:
- One service member who received a Purple Heart for his injuries
- A Gold Star brother, whose brother was lost in combat a few years ago
- A member of the Navy who recovered from injuries at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and is now stationed there until his possible medical retirement
- A Marine who had worked in communications and had deployed multiple times on Navy ships to assist in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
From Tom Deoudes of Freedom Hunters:
Really, what is not to like about Patriot Point? Every one of our hunts has been as therapeutic and healing as they have been successful in harvest. The young man from Walter Reed had his first taste of waterfowl hunting and he is now an enthusiast. The whole ride back he didn’t stop talking about how great a time he had.
They all said they enjoyed the time in the goose blind even though there wasn’t a goose to be shot. That is because it is about so much more than just the harvest. They had a fantastic time at the five-stand skeet shooting. [Property manager Tim Mitchell] does a great job making sure they have a full day of activities. For several of them, it was the first time to shoot at a five-stand and they loved it as well.
After the shoot, most went and had an impromptu diver duck hunt on the shore, while one warrior worked out in the gym and another just sat and relaxed outside. They actually shot one bufflehead but for the warriors it was more about them being together and feeling the bond of working as a team. Most of them miss that feeling.
The goals of Patriot Point and Freedom Hunters are the same. We are both working to heal some of the battle scars and trauma received from military service and to reduce the number of 22 service related suicide deaths a day. There is no better place to do it than the setting that Patriot Point provides. The warriors enjoyed having a place to sit around and talk at night. They were able to discuss the places they have been and how they may have overlapped on some of their deployments, reminiscing about different bases and even some of the fights they had been in. They enjoyed the group setting, overlooking Slaughters Creek while enjoying breakfast and laughing at Tim’s stories or about who shot what.
There is only one thing they all said they didn’t enjoy and that was that it only lasted two days. One of the warriors said that the “VA doctors ought to prescribe a heavy dose of Patriot Point to all our combat vets”. That is why I say Patriot Point is the total package.