When our servicemen and women come home from war, it is important they know how much their dedication and sacrifice has meant. Beyond saying thank you, what can one do?
Wounded Warrior Outdoors (WWO) in Winter Garden is a non-profit organization that shows gratitude by helping the wounded feel whole again, both physically and mentally. Ron Raboud, president and founder, has created a therapeutic way to gift these young men and women with exercise to their bodies and peace to their minds.
Transitioning from active duty to life at home is jarring. WWO offers 10 men and women, seven times each year, a special chance to participate in what some have described as an opportunity of a lifetime: a trip to the wilderness destination of their choice. Some choose to fish in Florida or bear hunt up in Canada. “We don’t go to commercial destinations, only private ones,” says Raboud.
Independent from other similar organizations, WWO operates on a 100 percent volunteer basis. “We are not here for recreational purposes. Our focus is to help them heal,” Raboud says. Home-cooked meals, transportation and lodging are all covered.
In partnership with Walter Reed, Balboa and Brooke Army Medical Centers, the WWO selects warriors who are receiving treatment at these facilities. “They’ve been recently wounded,” says Raboud. “With most of them, our trips will be their first time out of the hospital.” The hospital works with the men and women to get them physically ready for the trip.
In attendance is a seasoned warrior to help mentor the group. “I went on a bear hunt with them in 2012,” says Matt Amos, a former Marine. “It was my first trip post injury. I’d lost both legs and wondered how I was going to do it. Having Jim, our mentor, there with us – he is a triple amputee – he’s made it through the last 45 years. This has been the single best factor of my recovery. Now I go back and volunteer and mentor the new guys coming in.”
These trips help them adjust to their new prosthetics as well as adjust mentally, by being in a non-threatening environment. It would seem that hearing gunfire would be upsetting, but, says Raboud, “Imagine you are driving down the same path and trees. Even though they are harmless, you still think that at any time something can explode. Gunfire was associated with war. Now it is associated with target or skeet shooting. Where these settings were once traumatic, they are now okay. It helps them come to grips with everything.”
Raboud continues, “This is their chance to feel vibrant and engaged, to venture back into the wilderness and feel the wonder of being alive in nature. It helps them feel normal again. It is the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done in my life.”