On Veterans Day weekend, a group of about 20 veterans from across the country traveled to Shelter Island to take part in a health and wellness retreat at Mashomack Preserve.
Hosted by the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund and The Nature Conservancy, the retreat helped veterans strengthen their connections with nature and with one another.
“Our goal is to give veterans a space to deal with stress, anxiety and trauma,” said Islander Jimbo Theinert, president of the Theinert Fund. “A space to process their losses, share their stories, and forge bonds with people who have gone through similar experiences.”
The nonprofit Theinert Fund was established to honor the legacy of Shelter Island’s Army 1st Lieutenant Joseph J. Theinert (Jimbo’s brother), who was killed in action on June 4, 2010 during combat operations in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Previous retreats have taken place at the Theinert-Kestler family’s Strongpoint ranch in the Magdaelena Mountains of New Mexico.
For this weekend’s retreat, the foundation partnered with The Nature Conservancy to invite veterans to the Mashomack Preserve.
“Joe and I spent a lot of time in Mashomack over the years,” Mr. Theinert said. “It was one of his favorite places to go to keep himself in shape during his military career. In fact, the concept of getting veterans together to help deal with the trauma and challenges of returning from deployment was born on Shelter Island when we welcomed Joe’s platoon to visit here in 2011 after they redeployed from Afghanistan.”
The veterans devoted part of their Veterans Day weekend to performing service projects to help improve the grounds for future visitors.
On Saturday, they worked together to clear a trail extending to the bluffs overlooking Bass Creek. Later, they gathered stones from around the property and built a firepit on the grass outside the Manor House.
On Sunday morning, the veterans kayaked from the Manor house to Nichols Creek. After offloading the kayaks, the group set out on a 15-mile hike, taking a trail to the end of Mashomack Point and back to the Manor House.
A few hours into the hike, the group had to cross over an inlet, wading through a waist-high creek of icy water to reach the other side. “It was cold and windy,” said Brandon Kuahon, a veteran of the Fort Lewis Infantry Regiment, who traveled all the way from Pateros, Washington to attend the retreat.
“But we did it together and we kept going,” Mr. Kuahon said.
After completing their hike, the group made a campfire in the stone firepit before returning for a dinner celebration at the Manor House.
“I think for a lot of guys, moments like that remind them of what they miss about military service,” Mr. Theinert reflected afterward. “It’s hard, but it’s also enjoyable and gratifying, because you push yourself to do it, and you do it together. And that feeling is at the epicenter of our organization and what we hope to create at Strongpoint.”
Casey Monroe, a licensed social worker who was participating in his sixth Strongpoint retreat noted that, “Bonding happens very quickly when people work together. My main role here is to listen. To help veterans talk about things they haven’t been able to talk about, and then to process those experiences in a natural, beautiful, supportive environment, with the focus on healing.”
Mr. Monroe served as a Marine from 1986 to 1990. After being medically discharged for injuries sustained during combat training, he earned a Masters in Social Work at the University of Wisconsin and began a career specializing in working with victims of trauma. His background as both a veteran and clinician grants him a unique insight into the struggles that servicemen encounter in transitioning to civilian life.
“So often there’s that discomfort of talking with co-workers who haven’t been through the veteran experience,” he said. “They work in civilian jobs, but their civilian counterparts can’t understand what they’ve been through. What’s most important is empathy. When we ask veterans, with genuine concern, to share their stories, we empower them.”