Veterans helping veterans
BY RUSS EDEM
Karl Monger Executive Director of GallantFew organization spoke at a welcoming dinner for participants in the Raider Project hunt on Saturday night. Monger is a retired Army Major, he served as an Infantry Officer for 10 years on active duty. He discussed how the organization he works for is helping veterans in a revolutionary way.
“GallantFew’s mission is to prevent veteran isolation by connecting new veterans with hometown veteran mentors,” Monger said. “Thereby facilitating a peaceful, successful transition from military service to a civilian life filled with hope and purpose.
GallantFew accomplishes this by creating and supporting a nationwide network of successfully transitioned veterans that engage locally with new veterans with the same military background now going through transition and by motivating communities all over the nation to take responsibility for veterans returning.
After a scheduling conflict at the original venue for the dinner was discovered at the last minute, one of the volunteers that assisted with the pheasant hunt earlier Saturday arranged for the dinner to happen at a local business, Windshields For Less, 2100 N. Main, Great Bend.
SEWARD — Friday, 12 veterans from the Ft. Worth and Houston, Texas areas travelled to Great Bend to take part in a pheasant hunting therapy retreat sponsored by Innovative Outfitters.
They are all members of a group called GallantFew, an organization that seeks to help end of active service (EAS) United States Marine Corps Forces and United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command veterans successfully transition from military to civilian life.
This weekend’s retreat was a welcome respite from the pressures and stresses many of these former soldiers, some wounded and/or suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, have been working through.
Toby Hogan, owner of Innovative Outfitters, led the group and several local volunteers on the hunt near Radium Saturday morning. The men got an early start, with temperatures hovering at nine degrees. Soon, the birds, who had been laying low and trying to maintain their body heat, were flushed out thanks to the efforts of dogs and handlers, providing a good opportunity to experience one of Barton County’s best winter activities.
By noon, several had bagged some birds, and all had worked up an appetite, and headed to Mom’s Bar and Grill in Seward for lunch. The restaurant provided chicken fried steak dinners for each of the veterans free of charge.
“It’s just our way of saying thank you.” Carolyn Devine, who owns Mom’s with husband George Devine. “ We don’t get many veterans, or at least I’m not aware of it, and this is one way we can show our gratefulness and appreciation.”
The amount of time each of the men have been transitioning varied from two to 10 years. One of those men is Zach Ceballos. Ceballos arrived at his EAS in 2012, and faced a dark period as he transitioned from military life, where he had hundreds of brothers he could turn to at any time, to civilian life where he had no brothers or adult men to turn to for emotional support, or help in finding a new path for his life. He attended a retreat at a camp for veterans like himself in Northern Colorado, where he found what he needed to move forward, and has made it his mission to help others transitioning back.
It’s harder to transition than many anticipate, he added. By helping with The Raider Project, his goal is to help his fellow soldiers to have a healthier mental lifestyle, free of suicidal or homicidal thoughts.
“A lot of us have been through that dark phase, and now we take care of each other, and we take care of our own, just like we did in service,” Ceballos said.” That help may be money for rent, figuring out how to get a job, find a place to live, we are there to take care of one another. We are brothers-in-arms, and there is that camaraderie there. The veteran community now is much stronger than it was, say, 15 years ago.”
Saturday evening, the group gathered for a program and dinner where GallantFew organizer Karl Monger spoke, and the men enjoyed a meal provided by caterers Gail and Alan Moeder, Great Bend. Sunday morning, the hunting party will visit the DeHaan property north of Radium to finish out the retreat. Ron and Shannon DeHaan will provide a home cooked meal for the men before they head home to Texas. One of the hunters, their son Ryan DeHaan, a veteran and a good friend of Hogan’s, hopes to invite future groups back each year.