Ridgeland retreat to give veterans breathing room to create hopeful futures
Story by Lisa Allen + Photography by Lloyd Wainscott
As Gen. Sherman said, “War is hell.”
Unfortunately, for many combat veterans, being on the other side of war can be unbearable, too.
“I’ve known more friends and co-workers who have taken their own lives, as to those I knew killed in combat, and it breaks my heart.” said JR Brown, the vision (and chairman) behind Operation Patriots FOB, a nearly 300-acre Ridgeland retreat for combat veterans to find peace through friendships forged while fishing, hunting, hiking or skeet shooting.
Oh, and dogs
Operation Patriots FOB is a support organization to Labs for Liberty, a Utah nonprofit that pairs service dogs with veterans.
Dogs have always been a part of Brown’s life, first as companions exploring the woods and fields of Upstate New York where he grew up, then keeping him safe as a bomb-sniffing dog handler while spending a total of three years in Iraq, and now as a newfound purpose as a service dog trainer for Labs for Liberty.
It was being outside hunting, fishing and working with dogs that restored Brown’s happiness after he was injured in a training accident in Iraq in 2007. The Brown family moved to Bluffton three years ago, fulfilling a long-term plan he and his wife had. Brown, a US Marine, was stationed at Parris Island and the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, and they knew this was where they wanted to live.
He met Ben Kennedy during a kids’ school function, and Brown told Kennedy about his dream to help fellow veterans. Kennedy, owner of Brighton Builders, loved the idea because of his family’s military and law enforcement history and helped search for the perfect property to offer that oasis. They found it: 268 acres with a huge barn, outbuildings, dove field, quail woods, even a rifle range. They renamed it Legacy Oaks Preserve.
The organization is in its early stages, but already some of the 19,000 veterans in Beaufort County have descended on the property to mow it, maintain it and to simply enjoy the land.
“It is a non-clinical setting. You don’t have to be broken to come here,” Brown said. He knows how desperately needed that support is. “Last year hit hard,” he said. “I lost several friends.”
Twenty-one veterans commit suicide in the United States every day. Operation Patriots FOB wants to prevent as many of those as possible. The six-member board and volunteers are working on an application process that will usher in those who need it most.
“Combat veterans are our priority,” Brown said.
Through those applications, they’ll find out what might make those combat veterans, men and women, heal. Is it peace and quiet with no loud noises? Time on the water? In the woods? Working with dogs, and eventually horses?
“We want to build camaraderie in the civilian world,” Brown said. “We call it the FOB, Forward Operating Base. The FOB was a location that, when deployed, service men and women could go to for some down time to regroup and refocus. It was there that differences stemming from rank or background or age or viewpoint disappeared. They became a family.”
Brown, Kennedy and the other board members want to create that atmosphere. The nonprofit wants to raise enough money to bring in vets from around the country so they can find renewed purpose in their civilian life and build the camaraderie they once had while in uniform.
“To start, we’ll bring people here, but we envision trips around the country, maybe around the world, for this group,” Kennedy said. “In the future we’ll go hunting in Canada or fishing in Mexico, etc.”
In more ways than one, “this will be home base,” Brown said.
Home, safe, and among friends, indeed.
Operation Patriots FOB
What: Its mission is to create and foster positive experiences for veterans by connecting through outdoor and recreational activities. They create alliances through peer engagement in a comfortable and relaxed environment.
Where: Legacy Oaks Preserve, a 268-acre oasis in Ridgeland
Learn more: OPFOB.org
Roofs for Troops
Monarch Roofing has partnered with GAF Materials to give a free roof away to a service member or public safety individual who needs a new roof through the Roofs for Troops Program. Nominations are made through veteran groups that Monarch Roofing partners with or a community member. Once the nomination comes in and research is done, the veteran is surprised by friends, family and veterans groups. Learn more at monarchroofing.biz.