SkyRose Ranch, a beautiful, 22,000-acre retreat in San Miguel, is a place where our warriors — men and women who have sustained visible and invisible wounds on the battlefield — can undertake a journey of healing and restoration and become the men and women they were created to be.
It’s estimated there are 2.4 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of that number, about 460,000 — or 20 percent — suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or some form of major depression, with many suffering from alcohol dependency, homelessness and unemployment upon their return. And according to the U.S. Veterans Administration, we are witnessing an alarming rate of suicides committed by veterans each and every day.
SkyRose Ranch was built with those veterans in mind. It is here, at this pristine Central California retreat, that veteran groups such as the Mighty Oaks Warrior Foundation host their programs. Many of the warriors come to SkyRose Ranch hopeless and broken, but leave with a renewed sense of purpose. The various programs rely on peer-to-peer methods of facilitated recuperation, emphasize the role of faith in the healing process and are designed to challenge the warriors to overcome their past experiences and move forward into a life of purpose.
The ultimate goal is to restore individuals and families that have been broken by the scourges of combat.
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Take Joseph Molis, a U.S. Marine Corps combat engineer, Purple Heart recipient and Iraq veteran. Joe was injured when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device, killing members of Joe’s team and severely injuring him. After returning home, Joe struggled with traumatic brain injury, PTSD and reintegration issues. Joe also wrestled with addiction, isolation and criminal behavior, and his marriage was on the brink of collapse.
He entered the Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs’ Fight Club, a program that teaches veterans to “fight through” challenges that stifle success through peer-based instruction. After a week of one-on-one counseling, meetings, classes on forgiveness, legacy, honor, brotherhood, faith, family and bonding-type recreational activities, Joe graduated.
The Fight Club experience not only changed the course of Joe’s life, it radically transformed him, restoring his marriage. And now he’s out changing the world around him.
Joe’s case is typical of the 944 warriors who have completed the program.
The Fight Club challenge is: “To reject passivity, accept responsibility and lead courageously.” The transformational week ends with a graduation ceremony and a potluck dinner. Each warrior is presented with a symbolic personalized rudis — a wooden sword given to a gladiator when he is freed.
The mission statement of the Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs is based on Isaiah 61:3 — “To build leaders of leaders. To rise up from the ashes; they will be called Mighty Oaks of Righteousness.”
To date, not a single graduate of the programs has committed suicide — a testament to the success of Mighty Oaks.
The lodges and facilities at SkyRose Ranch are first-class, handicap-accessible and the epicurean meals will satisfy the hungriest warrior. The warriors who attend are fully sponsored either through Serving California Foundation (www.servingcalifornia.org), or through the Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs (www.mightyoaksprograms.org). It costs $2,000 to put each veteran through the program, and there are more 150 veterans waiting to attend. Unfortunately, the longer they wait, the greater the likelihood they’ll harm themselves.
This year alone, seven veterans waiting to get in committed suicide. This sad fact is unacceptable, and we need to generously support these brave men and women in uniform who have put themselves in harm’s way in order to keep us safe.
On a related subject, in April, the California Veterans Affairs Committee, with bipartisan support, unanimously approved AB 1672 — legislation aimed at expanding the reach of Veterans Treatment Courts in California, so every veteran who has committed a low-level offense can have their case heard by a judge who understands the special needs of veterans. And that’s why I’m not only happy to serve as its co-sponsor, but I’m committed to fund half of the state-commissioned study.
We owe our veterans, whether dealing with the unspeakable trauma of war or in trouble with the law, an opportunity for a brighter tomorrow and a life filled with hope.
B. Wayne Hughes Jr. is California businessman, philanthropist, and founder of SkyRose Ranch, which provides rehabilitation services to veterans diagnosed with PTSD and other disorders.