Been busy…


I’ve been a bit silent on my blog lately, but it doesn’t mean I have not been busy. (Actually, I’ve been missing my blog and blogging friends!)

Here is one of the many things I’ve been working on…

Story and photos by Maj. Michelle Lunato 

98th Training Division -Initial Entry Training

Retired Veteran Helps Others Find Peace Through Horses

Life can be full of stress that is unavoidable. From the irritation of dealing with road-raging drivers to the anxiety of coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, it can be a lot to handle.

Of course, stress and PTSD are not always limited to veterans alone. Many family members and civilians can have similar weight on their shoulders. Regardless of the size of the shoulders, sometimes, the weight can just be too much.

But in these situations, people just need a horse to save the day, according to Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Sam Rhodes, owner of Warrior Outreach in Fortson, Ga. After serving 30 consecutive months deployed to Iraq in 2003, Rhodes found it hard to readjust to life back home. He suffered in silence from the impacts of war because he feared the stigma associated with asking for help.

“I was kind of embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone to know I had challenges. So I kind of handled it on my own,” said Rhodes who serves as the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Program Manager for The Maneuver Center of Excellence Directorate of Training and Doctrine at Fort Benning.

Through his struggles, Rhodes discovered a path to comfort. “I found that horses were very helpful to me. The dynamic part of that is, being a leader, once you find something that’s going to help you get through the challenges in life, you want to share it with other people.”

So like a good senior noncommissioned officer, Rhodes sprang into action to help others who may be suffering in silence, like he was. In 2008, Rhodes and his wife, Cathy, started the Wounded Warrior Horsemanship Program at Fort Benning. It allowed veterans and their families the chance to interact with horses during special events on post. As time went on, people kept asking us to do more and more though… so eventually, we did, said Rhodes. That is when the Wounded Warrior Horsemanship Program transformed Rhodes country home into the Warrior Outreach Ranch.


“In 2015, we decided to make it bigger and bought 15 acres, built the barn, and now expanded our home as a place for people to come, relax and enjoy life and relieve some of the stress of life.”

Warrior Outreach Ranch, which is a 20-acre ranch, is a sanctuary Rhodes and his wife created for veterans and their families.

“There are so many veterans suffering from challenges in their life – not only from the war, but just everything. So we want this to be a peaceful place for them to come,” said Rhodes.

At the ranch, peace comes in a variety of forms. Veterans can choose to walk a quiet trail, fish in the tranquil pond, hang out in the quaint club house, or Rhodes’ favorite activity – interact with the horses. Whether it’s feeding, grooming or riding the horses, Rhodes finds that his soul is quieted through the contact.

“They say the outside of a horse is good, for the inside of a man.”

Being around an animal that big, makes people focus, and focus is a key to dealing with stress, according to Rhodes. With all the stressors in today’s hectic pace of life, anything can trigger anxiety…if we let it, said the veteran who is a Legion of Merit and Bronze Star awardee.

“We can go into a downward spiral any day, over anything,” said Rhodes. But the retired command sergeant major found his way to refocus through horses over the years. And this form of therapy has worked for other veterans and their families too. That resiliency skill taught Rhodes, and his Warrior Outreach Ranch visitors, how to emphasize the good.

“You have to figure out a way to get a positive in what you are doing, and not focus so much on the negative things in life.”

The Warrior Outreach Ranch helps people do just through daily interaction or special events. Rhodes said the ranch was created for veterans, and he and Cathy tailor their time to what veterans and their families need. So whether veterans need a unit family day, class on resiliency or just time with the family in a quiet place, this retired command sergeant major is ready to help.

In December, over 50 Army Reserve Soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade, 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training), spent the day at the ranch for their official family day. The relaxed family environment was filled with outdoor activities and time with the horses, said Capt. Cheryl Miller, an HHC officer with 1st Brigade, 98th Training Division (IET), which is located on Fort Benning.

The local facility offered the Reserve Soldiers with a unique opportunity to unwind, said Sgt. 1st Class Marvin Chestnut, plans and operations noncommissioned officer, HHC, 1st Brigade, 98th Training Division (IET).

“The Warrior Outreach Ranch put in a lot of hard work for our Soldiers to have a memorable experience, and really took the time to ensure the Soldiers were really enjoying themselves.”

The fact that the unit’s family day was at a fellow veteran’s home just added more to the day, and the unit could not be more thankful to Rhodes and his wife, said 1st Lt. Robert Burch, HHC commander, 1st Brigade, 98th Training Division (IET).

“They are absolutely fantastic people and their mission is an honorable and selfless one.”

Creating a ranch doesn’t just happen overnight though. It takes a lot of volunteers to run the nonprofit organization that is available at no cost to veterans. Lance Hoffman, a retired lieutenant colonel who was also diagnosed with PTSD, is one of those volunteers who keeps the ranch running.

Hoffman, who only found out about the ranch through a friend, said he offered to help out for one event, and hasn’t stopped since. That was a few years ago.

“Sam found out I had a chainsaw, and that was all she wrote,” said Hoffman who regularly helps clear brush and trees along the three main hiking and riding trails. “Now I am the proud owner of three chainsaws, two pole saws and several double bit and single bit axes and wedges and everything else.”

The large group of volunteers who keep the ranch running are a mix of veterans and their family members, as well as local citizens who just want to support the military and be around horses. As the volunteers muck stalls, familiarize visitors with the horses and cut trees, they are also building a larger family and stronger community.

“There is just a camaraderie out here,” said Hoffman. The close-knit family is always willing to adopt though, joked Hoffman.

“We need more volunteers. If you gotta chainsaw, come on. I got lots of work for us to do!”

However, not all volunteers need a chainsaw. There are plenty of other ways to help the ranch that range from administrative tasks to handing out equipment to visitors. And when time is not possible to give, others compelled to help can donate everything from hay to food to garden tools.

In full military style, Rhodes does give out one safety warning to all his guests and volunteers though, just so they know what they are getting into to.

“Once you come out here, you’ll fall in love with it and you won’t want to leave.”

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For those interested in scheduling an event at the Warrior Outreach Ranch or volunteering to aid the nonprofit organization, look for more information at http://warrioroutreach.org/.

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Ok, I have to get back to work now! 😘

Talk to you all more later.

Nato

Scrambled news


As a child, I thought there were clear lines. Things were either right or wrong, black or white. However, as I grew up, I learned the world was much more complex. So complex that sometimes, there was no black or white, but merely shades of gray.

These shades of gray invade every aspect of our lives. We debate on everything too. From whether eggs are a healthy protein or cholesterol killer to if the media is worthless fake news or valued free press, we plead our case.

It seems nothing is simple anymore…or maybe, it never was.

Eggs have always been eggs. Their molecular composition has not changed. Nor has their nutritional values. They are both things: high in protein AND cholesterol. So, depending on what you read and your nutritional needs, they can be good or bad.

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For example, the Mayo Clinic states that eggs can be a very healthy option.

Most healthy people can eat up to seven eggs a week with no increase in their risk of heart disease. Some studies have shown that this level of egg consumption may actually prevent some types of strokes.

Yet, for a while, eggs were reported to be a bad food choice by many. For example, Live Science states that there is no real dietary need for them.

Cholesterol is an important component of all human and animal cells and influences hormone biology, among other functions. Since your body naturally has all it needs from producing its own cholesterol, there is no dietary requirement for more cholesterol.

The problem here is that both arguments are factually correct. So, if we can have this much debate over the simple egg, naturally, every other issue is bound to be more complex.

That brings me to the media and the current buzz over their value. Just like eggs, there are two distinct camps. There is the #FakeNews camp and the #NotTheEnemy camp.

And, just like debate on eggs, both camps have some validity.

Is there fake news out there? Of course there is. However, it is usually called propaganda. This simulated version of news aims to inform its audience with the goal of altering an opinion on a topic. Sometimes there will be a nugget of truth buried in the “news.” Or other times, it is completely false. Either way, this propaganda can be powerfully misleading.

This fake news is not a left- or right-wing problem though. It can easily be found across party lines. Heck, it can be found across the globe for that matter.

On the flip side, there is good journalism out there. For generations, reporters have discovered many wrongs in the world. From unethical business practices to inhumane treatment of segments of society, reporters have provided the checks and balances in our democratic society.

This necessary “watchdog” in America is essential. Unfortunately though, the watchdog’s growl is not always appreciated, especially if its directed AT you, rather than FOR you.

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No one likes criticism of course. There will always be an endless stream of naysayers and complainers who think their way is better. However, as mature adults, it is important for us to sift through the claims and evaluate if there is any validity. And sometimes, we have to realize…the truth isn’t always pretty. Nor, is it always for us. However, just because something is not FOR us, doesn’t always mean its false.

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This harsh reality is what makes democracy work though. It helps to keep people honest and makes them accountable.

But as average people in this era of #AlternativeFacts, how can we trust what we are reading? With new “media” sites popping up all over the internet, it can be hard, if not impossible, to know the truth of what we are reading.

Fighting propaganda is a serious concern these days. And it is a issue that falls into the laps of the readers, according to National Public Radio.

Stopping the proliferation of fake news isn’t just the responsibility of the platforms used to spread it. Those who consume news also need to find ways of determining if what they’re reading is true.

If you read their article, they give some tips on filtering out fake news, which I highly recommend.

I guess the bottom line is that you should get your news from multiple sources, or like the saying goes…don’t put all your eggs into one basket.

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For Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge ~ Black and White.