Restoring Veterans' Hope
A group of 73 veterans rode with a 16-motorcycle escort Sept. 14, embarking on Operation Restoring Veteran Hope, a new retreat designed to provide veterans with an opportunity for healing and a chance to share their stories. Veterans of Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq, ranging in age from 29 to 72, attended.
The retreat, which was held at St. Joseph’s Youth Camp outside of Flagstaff, was created by two local veterans, Ray Perez and Sandra Topete, with the sponsorship of the Knights of Columbus and other veteran support programs.
“I have been through the struggle post military and I know how it feels to be hopeless,” Perez said. “This retreat is a place for veterans to be with other veterans that have similar experiences so that together we can restore hope within us. I want them to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that they are not alone.”
The retreat gave a much-needed respite to veterans from all walks of life, continuing efforts to lower the suicide rate and encourage stability for veterans. It offered help to those with a moral injury, which is an injury to a person’s conscience after an act of perceived moral transgression. Veterans often carry such scars, due to how they perceive their participation — giving orders, following a command or simply witnessing the acts — in various military decisions.
The gathering provided time for meditation, peer mentoring and inspirational speakers. On the more active side, retreat attendees enjoyed horseback riding, music, kayaking, card tournaments, horseshoes, volleyball and hiking. Members of St. Joseph’s and other volunteers provided meals.
Thanks to the generosity of the Knights and other sponsors, the event was provided to the veterans for free. More companies have stepped forward to sponsor future events after the success of the first, including major toiletry brands.
“We want to continue this for many years to come,” organizer and Vietnam veteran Mike Kingman said.
Along with the Knights of Columbus, the event was sponsored by Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals (VAREP), Stop, Drop, and Push Campaign and Embracing Our Heroes. The Knights of Columbus support events like this one, including the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage and the Veteran’s Affairs Voluntary Service program.