Warrior Weekend: Relaxing trips for troops on the road to recovery

MILLSBORO – Barring a sudden change in plans, a van this Friday will leave the heart of Sussex County and head to Fort Belvoir, Va.

It will pick up a small battalion of America’s military personnel on the mend and head to Rehoboth Beach for a get-away weekend in their hopeful road to recovery.

18 Warrior Weekend troops at NFL studios

U.S. military personnel receive the VIP treatment at the NFL Films Studios during their Warrior Weekend trip.

A second trip to Melissa’s Bed and Breakfast in Rehoboth Nov. 20-22 is the 2015 finale of seven three-day weekend trips this year in Warrior Weekend, which this year included trips to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Fort Miles and Baywood Greens, Eagles and Phillies games and other sites of the Philadelphia area and a fall foliage journey to the picturesque Hudson River Valley of New York state.

Launched in 2007 and incorporated in 2013, Warrior Weekend’s mission is quite simple, says facilitator Jim Lafferty.

“The whole concept is to take those troops that have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan out of the military hospitals and take them out of there for a weekend of fun, relaxation, good food and entertainment,” said Mr. Lafferty. “No uniforms; it’s all civilian clothes. It is their weekend.”

With closure of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, wounded troops are assigned to three locations, based on the degree of injuries and medical issues.

Soldiers at Fort Belvoir, Va., are candidates for Warrior Weekend.

“We take those troops because they ambulatory and they can move around. Once in while they may have a wheelchair or may be on crutches but they are capable of getting out for a weekend,” said Mr. Lafferty. “The whole concept was once they get to Fort Belvoir, they don’t have anything to do on the weekend. They are bored; no doctor appointments. Why don’t we get them out of there?”

From the pick-up time Friday to what usually is an emotional return and goodbye at Fort Belvoir, wounded troops get the royal VIP treatment: major motel/hotel rooms, top-quality restaurants, entertainment as well as the option to simply relax and spend time with family and loved ones.

Jim Lafferty, facilitator of Warrior Weekend, a non-profit based in the heart of Sussex County.

“Normally we keep it to 10 people,” said Mr. Lafferty, adding that family members are invited at no cost. “One of the things I find from troops’ point of view is they got wounded, rushed to flow to hospital in Germany, ended up at the old Walter Reed or somewhere else, and a lot of times these guys use this weekend to reconnect with their families. We tell them, ‘The opportunity is yours. You can participate or you just you hang out – whatever you want to do with your family.’ The only thing we ask is that we have our meals together.”

Previous trips included the Marriott Inner Harbor, April 3-5; weekend at Melissa’s Bed and Breakfast, May 1-3: Philadelphia, tour of Liberty Bell, Independence Mall and Congress Hall. Evening guests of the Phillies, June 19-21; Philadelphia, and NFL Films in nearby New Jersey, Aug. 14-16; Rehoboth Beach: tour of Fort Miles, golf outing at Baywood Greens, Sept. 18-20; Weekend at Hudson Valley, Kingston, N.Y., Oct. 2-4.

Capt. Ural Jones shared his thanks for his wonderful time at Melissa’s Bed and Breakfast in May via a testimonial on the Warrior Weekend website: www.warriorweekend.net.

“Excellent weekend!  Ms. Melissa and her staff at the B&B were warm, friendly and very accommodating.  The rooms were very comfortable and relaxing.  The food at Nicola’s and the American Legion Post 5 was awesome. I think I gained 10 pounds this weekend,” Capt. Jones stated. “It made me feel so proud when we walked into the American Legion Post 5 to a standing ovation. The members of the post really know the meaning of selfless service and what it means to serve our great country.  The program gets an A+ in all categories!  Well Done!  Well Done!!”

18 WARRIOR WEEKEND troops at Hudson River Cruises

An October weekend get-away to Kingston, N.Y., and the scenic Hudson River valley were part of the Warrior Weekend’s 2015 for wounded troops in recovery.

The autumn trip to Kingston and New York’s Hudson Valley, Mr. Lafferty said, was most memorable: limousine service, a first-class Amtrak ride including a stop at Penn Station, massive motorcycle, police and fire vehicle escorts and a cruise on the Hudson.

“There is an American Legion Post up there that got in touch with us to see if we could take the troops up there for one of the weekends. They also have fundraisers during the course of the year to help offset the cost of the trip. It works out great,” said Mr. Lafferty.

“The town of Kingston is just unbelievable the way they come out and honor the troops and support the troops and thank the troops for all that they do. I’ve been in that limo with the troops on a Friday afternoon going through this … and there is not a sound that comes out of those troops. They just sit there in awe. In fact there are a lot of tears that are shed in that limo when they see the reception. At the hotel, every veteran’s organization, color guard and honor guards they ‘ring’ the hotel. It just gives you chills.”

In his testimonial on the Kingston trip, Chief Warrant Officer Olabisi Lewis called it “absolutely amazing.”

“The organizers were supportive, ensuring we had a relaxing weekend and we did.  From inception to our departure, I was blown away by the Kingston community.  To the American Legion members, you guys totally rock.  I was taken out of my comfort zone, which was much needed.  The community showed their love and support which brought tears. Kingston, N.Y. I am forever grateful for all you have done in making this weekend an unforgettable weekend.”

Sgt. Tina Hills had a similar rave review.

“Amazing weekend, very attentive to all service members’ needs.  Activities and food were amazing!! Everyone was amazing! Weather was chilly (out of anyone’s control).  Thank you for everything you did. It was amazing and my whole family feels blessed.  There were amazing activities and people throughout the entire weekend.  The support given to myself, my husband and my son was priceless”.

Emotions often show and flow when Sundays arrive and trips come to end.

“It is very rewarding … to see the faces on these troops. You get the big hug.

To me, that is what it is all about,” said Mr. Lafferty. “They know that people appreciate what they have done. And not to get political but I just wish our government would have a bigger appreciation for what they do.”

Trip transportation is a van, donated by Mumford Miller Concrete in Middletown, and a couple trailers, which are kept at American Legion Post 28 in Millsboro.

In Philadelphia, via connections with the Parks Service, guests of honor get a private tour of the Liberty Bell in Independence Mall.

“He had a program called Hamels Heroes, he did what he could for active duty personnel. He heard about the program so he invited the troops, gave each guys a camo type T-shirt and on back it had Hamel’s Heroes, and his number. He brought them down to the field and they met all of the players.”

At NFL Films Studios in Mount Laurel, N.J. – across the Delaware River from Philadelphia – troops were presented an NFL helmet, T-shirt and hat of their favorite NFL team and treated to a barbecue buffet luncheon.

Warrior Weekend, a 501 c 3 charitable non-profit, is not associated with either the Wounded Warrior Project or the Warrior Weekend Foundation. It operates on support, generosity, fundraising and volunteerism.

“We have 100 percent all volunteers. Nobody gets paid,” said Mr. Lafferty.

Trips can range from $3,000 to $8,000 depending on the destination and in-kind donations. Marriott Hotels is among the major supporters, Mr. Lafferty said.

A recent fundraiser was held at Baywood through the Lunch with a Purpose, a ladies club organization. Some 40 items were part of the club’s Chinese auction supporting Warrior Weekend.

An ongoing raffle fundraiser has a truly “super-sized” prize: a trip to Super Bowl 50, Feb. 7 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Ca.

“The NFL has enabled us to purchase two tickets to the Super Bowl. This is our third year. We put together a package – two tickets, three nights in a motel close to the Super Bowl, $1,500 cash for transportation and spending money,” said Mr. Lafferty. “We have been very successful with this raffle.”

Tickets are $20. The drawing will be held in January.

Anyone wanting to purchase raffle tickets can call any of the following personnel: Garth at (302) 462-8659; Jim at (302) 745-7779; Scott at (302) 448-0830; Jim at (302) 354-3362 or Karen at (302) 245-2781.

For more information on Warrior Weekend, visit: www.warriorweekend.net.

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