Thoughts from VCR President Darrin Coldiron:
From September 28 – October 1, Veterans Community Response held a Vietnam Combat Veterans Retreat at Glacier Trailhead Cabins. Over the past 7 years we have hosted around 25 different Combat Veterans retreats as well as a number of other missions and events. We see a lot of transformation, but something special and unique happened at this latest retreat.
Every retreat has seen breakthrough moments for some vets, life direction changes for others, and the formation of new friendships and support groups for many. Every year we are blessed to witness vets going from suicidal states to becoming reborn warriors and moving into new lives with inspiration and purpose.
We work to balance the fraternal, clinical and spiritual aspects of our retreats. Our cultural advisors from The Blackfeet Nation guide retreat staff and clients through powerful ceremonies at every retreat.
This has been an especially intense and difficult summer for me as VCR increased our workload and lost some critical members of our team. I had to take on a few extra workloads this year, and that took its toll on me. Running VCR stopped feeling like an honor and started feeling like a heavy burden. My tank was empty. Coming to the last retreat I was on autopilot, just looking forward to the end of the retreat season.
I felt something different at this retreat from the moment we began building the sweat lodge, a buzz in the air. Craig Falcon led the staff sweat the night before the Vets arrival and we centered our energy and intent.
Exiting the sweat lodge it’s impossible to not feel awe and wonder, so I wasn’t surprised to feel stress and anxiety melting away. Glacier Trailhead Cabins is set between two sacred mountains – Chief Mountain to the north, Divide Mountain to the south and in front of us the jaw dropping beauty of Glacier Park.
Each morning, Craig led us in welcoming the Sun with a short ceremony of smudging, praying and intention setting. Our first morning we closed our eyes to pray with a thick fog all around. As I listened to the Blackfeet intonation and set my own intent, I felt a change. When we opened our eyes the fog was gone and blue skies welcomed the sun’s rays to the peaks of Glacier.
On the third day we all went to Chief Mountain and experienced a sacred pipe ceremony and an eagle feather ceremony. Each of us took our prayers to our own private place in the forest and suddenly coyotes started calling to each other, very close to us. Craig had talked to us of the importance of bringing the whole warrior home and being sure to shed the extra baggage of intense trauma.
When I tied my tobacco bundle to a tree, asking Creator to take what didn’t serve me and to help guide me to better service, a wind picked up and I felt a load of junk float away. When I called myself home as instructed, I felt like a missing part of me did come back. As I walked back to the clearing, careful not to touch the decades of prayer clothes and offerings that adorn this sacred site, I felt jubilant, powerful, excited and mystified.
When I reached the meadow, a staff member and vet came up to me and related a powerful experience of his own, a powerful discovery in the forest that was left by another and he was guided to, a powerful message seemingly written just for him . Then another VCR staffer tells me of his powerful experience, then another staffer in tears tells me of his own powerful experience and how important VCR has been for him, and then I’m noticing that all the vets are quiet and thoughtful, all seeming to have undergone an intense and positive experience.
Everyone was searching for ways to honor this sacred site, to give something back. I saw everyone scouring the sacred meadow for anything out of place, being careful to leave prayers and offerings undisturbed. We took over three bags of garbage off the Chief Mountain road over the three miles from meadow to pavement.
Later that afternoon in the sweat lodge I had the opportunity to sit and talk alone with a grizzled USMC Sargeant after the others had exited the lodge in between rounds. He told me how he had led men into battle, leading some to their deaths, and tried to impart to me the burden this left on his heart and soul. Then he told me that this retreat was one of the most impactful and important experiences of his and the other vets lives, that he was now home in a new way.
Later that night I left the retreat early to drive the 6 hours back to Spokane to be ready for work the next morning, I realized that I had witnessed something intensely powerful and transformative. Affecting not just these vets, but staff as well.
I can’t do justice to this in words, and I can’t describe how I know this to be true, but that day on Chief Mountain, a bunch of souls were made whole, and a group of warriors really came home for the first time in forty years.
I won’t pretend to bear any responsibility for this power and transformation. I’m just a tool being used to complete a purpose.
I want to thank everyone who plays an equal role to me in making these retreats happen. All the people who donate their lodging, food, time, service and energy to healing our warriors and helping them find their way home.
You all make this happen through your energy and intent, and it is effective and good. We are changing lives. Thank you all for being part of this team.