A roaring bonfire became the spark that prompted Brian Koehn to make his first connection with other veterans at a recent Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) family day and camping trip at Secret Island.
A setting sun, volcanic mountains, and a pristine Pacific coastline was the perfect backdrop for veterans and their families to enjoy a day at the beach and a night of sharing their experiences with one another.
For Brian, the same location used during filming of “Jurassic Park” was the perfect setting for his first WWP event.
“I didn’t know if I was ready to mingle with other warriors, but once the fire was lit, we just seemed to be drawn closer together and the stories started,” the Marine Corps veteran said.
WWP program gatherings offer settings that provide opportunities for injured veterans to form bonds. The programs assist injured veterans with mental health, physical health and wellness, career and benefits counseling, connecting warriors with one another and their communities, and long-term care for the most seriously wounded.
Air Force veteran Jorge Pagan-Nieves said talking with other wounded warriors is a significant part of his recovery.
“We talked about what we face every day, but we also talked about our triumphs,” he said. “We learned so much by connecting with each other. Hearing about the successes is so important.”
Participants were able to splash around and relax in Kaneohe Bay. Relay races, a scavenger hunt, beach volleyball, horseshoes, kayaking, paddleboarding, and a catamaran ride also were available.
In a WWP survey of the injured warriors it serves, 29.6 percent of survey respondents expressed physical activity helps them cope with stress and emotional concerns. Programs like this highlight the importance of managing mental health through physical activity and connecting with other veterans.
“Just being able to chill out was the best part for me,” said Marine Corps veteran Tony Lynch. “It takes me out of my comfort zone and allows my wife to relax because she knows I feel safe when I’m around other veterans.”