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By Meagan Friberg, Originally published in PASO Magazine, April 2017
Mighty Oaks Leaders-in-Training step up to help fellow Warriors
 
Working together, the staff and volunteers of Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs, are committed to transforming the lives of veterans and active duty military personnel at SkyRose Ranch in San Miguel. Two recent graduates of the MOWP Men’s Legacy Program – Daniel Salazar of Norman, OK and Bryan Zuppinger of Oceanside, CA – are undergoing Leadership Training and have agreed to share their personal stories.
Salazar retired in 2014 after serving 20 years in the Marine Corps as an Infantry Leader, including during the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. In November 2016, he attended a Mighty Oaks Men’s Legacy in Tulsa, OK. During one class in particular, Salazar realized his time with MOWP was going to be life-changing – the class on Legacy.
“What spoke to me was, ‘How do I want be remembered when my time on Earth is over? What are people going to say during my eulogy?’ If they were being honest, they would say I was an angry, bitter person. I didn’t value my wife, I didn’t value the blessings I had with my children; I was being unfaithful to them as a man,” he said. “I had chains I needed to break and, if I didn’t, my children would be carrying those same chains – I didn’t want that.”
Choking back tears, Salazar adds, “Now, my family is proud of me; they notice everything I have been working on. I want to let others know it doesn’t matter how deep or how dark a hole they’re in, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and there is hope.”
Striking a chord
Zuppinger served in the Marine Corps as a Corporal and later as a commissioned Second Lieutenant for 19 years. He was honorably discharged with a medical separation after experiencing multiple deployments, including Iraq and Afghanistan. A series of events added up to the once-mellow young man becoming a self-described, “angry guy.” Relentless trauma built up – his youngest brother dying in a motorcycle accident, the haunting deaths of his fellow Marines, a Xanax addiction, a legal marital separation and suicide attempt – causing Zuppinger to drink excessively and have recurring nightmares.
He went through inpatient services, outpatient services and, ultimately, a stint in the brig; Zuppinger learned about MOWP when representatives spoke at Camp Pendleton. “What really stuck a chord with me,” he said, “was when they challenged us with, ‘If what you’re doing now isn’t working, why not try something else?’ This statement has become somewhat of a ‘call to arms’ for Mighty Oaks.”  In February 2017, he attended the Men’s Legacy Program at SkyRose Ranch.
“It turned my life completely around,” Zuppinger said. “When I received God’s grace, I discovered unconditional love. This completely changed my outlook and perspective. Before, I felt I was so far gone there was no coming back, but I was forgiven and given another chance to get my legacy back on track. I walked away from my time with Mighty Oaks with an inner peace I can barely explain. I could breathe again, and all the issues I was dealing with weren’t controlling me anymore; the void inside of me was gone.”
Giving back
Now in various stages of MOWP Leadership Training, Salazar and Zuppinger are dedicated to serving their brothers in need. “If I can help just one person that may be in the situation that I was in, I want to be able to give back,” Salazar said. Zuppinger agreed, saying, “Mighty Oaks literally saved my life and, if God can use me to help someone else, it’s what I want to do.”
A public graduation ceremony at the SkyRose Ranch barn in San Miguel will be held on June 23 at 7 p.m. Come on out and help celebrate the Warriors! Bring a side dish or meal to share; tri-tip and refreshments provided. See www.mightyoaksprograms.org for more info on Mighty Oaks or send an email to info@mightyoaksprograms.org