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by Jamie Warner – 

As the crisp California sun began to drift to the westerly horizon, thirty-four Veterans converged on rolling hills of cattle country on the Central Coast at SkyRose Ranch. Warriors crisscrossed our great land from New York to Oregon and Minnesota to Texas. They represented the military spectrum with specialties of infantry to motor-T, intel to Navy SEALs, and communications to law enforcement. This melting pot of the military service branches entered the week with the belief that they had no more in common than the title of “Veteran.”
For many, if not most, in attendance, life had spun out of control and they found themselves fighting a losing battle. No one understands what I’ve been through. What I’ve seen. The things I’ve done. These were the prevailing thoughts on that first afternoon as Warriors tentatively made their way around the lodge introducing themselves. Direct eye contact was avoided by many as they took their seats in the classroom to begin this journey into what is often assumed to be “just another veteran program.” Awkward silence permeated the room as Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs’ West Coast Manager Bill Coate stood center stage to welcome everyone and make staff introductions, hand out waivers (any activity that requires a waiver must be a good one), and explain the materials.
Before the suspicion that this was five days of Death-by-PowerPoint could become reality, Bill introduced retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant Robert Cale to give his personal testimony. A testimony is nothing more than a person’s story. But at a Legacy Program, it is so much more than just a person’s story: it’s a raw, unfiltered, uninhibited, transparent out-pouring. It’s unnerving to the uninitiated. Unbelievable. Unforgettable. As one student last year put it, “I wondered how transparent we were expected to be. From that first testimony on the first night I had my answer: Nothing short of 100%.” But that’s a big reason our program is so successful. We create and model a safe, confidential environment through earned trust where participants can unload their burdens. We also open their eyes to the battlefield.
We use the analogy of carrying a rucksack throughout life, where each time we endure hardship, or trauma, we stuff the experience in our rucksack and press on with the mission – life. As the ruck continues to fill throughout life, the weight of those experiences begins to bog us down and make us feel as if we are carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. The Warriors that attended last week were able to unload their rucks and go home with a lighter load. They also took with them tools, like Fight Plans, to assist them to continue forward. Life transformation happened on significant levels. An 83-year-old Korean War Veteran gave his life to the Lord for the first time. Twelve men made public professions of faith through baptism. Lives were realigned with God’s purposes. Plans were put in place to restore relationships and families.
One of this week’s Team Leaders, Ben, captured it well when he shared,

“When people connect with each other and they show compassion for one another – it’s significant. When total strangers discover that the common ground between them is the love that God has for them, they start to understand their purpose – that is profound.”

“Though an army deploys against me,

My heart will not be afraid;

Though a war breaks out against me,

I will still be confident.”

I have asked one thing from the LORD;

It is what I desire:

To dwell in the house of the LORD

All the days of my life,

Gazing on the beauty of the LORD

And seeking him in his temple.”

Psalms 27:3-4