- Published on Wednesday, 10 April 2013
- Written by Photos and story by LEE LESCHPER
Healing Hearts offers respite to warriors in Alaska’s outdoors
Some troops returning to Alaska carry real physical and emotional wounds.
Alaska’s Healing Hearts is a new organization dedicated to using Alaska’s outdoors to help wounded Alaska warriors recover.
Healing Hearts organizes fishing, camping and hunting trips for Alaska wounded warriors. It’s a relatively new organization, formed in May 2011, that’s been gathering an impressive group of national board members, like legendary outdoor writer Jim Zumbo.
“We include the whole family, and it’s not just about hunts,” director James Hastings said. “We want them to not just get by, not just survive. With us they’re not just doing OK. They can get outside their limits. They want to feel normal again.”
Now the organization has fishing camps and family camps with everything from trail rides to canoeing to archery classes.
“Our spring bear hunt is our big premier marquee event,” he said. “It started out as few as six and as high as 49 people.
“The center of our organization is not to take over the world. We do not want to be national or huge. We are trying to cause people to catch inspiration. So that other guy can also say ‘I could do that … I know a warrior family down the road, I bet I could help that guy take his kids fishing.’ There’s a single mom, herself with five deployments, and three kids of her own, who is one of our most active volunteers.”
The program’s summer camp is near Sutton, in a youth camp on 600 acres, with 10 cabins that each can sleep 10 people. The location was intentional, Hastings said.
“We stayed on the road system so people can drive, even if just after work (to participate). (In May), even after work they’ve got eight hours of sun,” he said.
“What’s amazing, really awesome, is the guys start looking around and asking ‘What can I do?’ There are only so many boats, horses, bear stands, so they start asking to cut brush, clear trails, do anything to help.”
Hastings, retired after 22 years of active duty, now works full time on veteran affairs for the state as the Alaska Heroes to Hired employment coordinator. They take out as few as six and as high as 49 people.
The center of our organization is not to take over the world. We do not want to be national or huge. We are trying to cause people to catch inspiration. So that other guy can also say ‘I could do that …
But Healing Hearts is his passion.
He also works closely with Rodeo Alaska, and finds a common bond there, as well.
“You’ll find that cowboys and soldiers are not far apart. They have their own uniforms, show courtesy and professionalism, still play in a team sport,” he said. “Some of our warriors buddy up with a bull rider, learn the ropes behind the chutes, help with gear and learn about bulls. One young man graduated to become a bull rider.”
One gal from Arkansas who had a significant back injury was worried about not being able to do anything. We were able to get her in an airboat, up into a tree stand … safely in and out. She came back in tears, because she hadn’t believed she’d ever be able to do something like that again.
And while the focus is on Alaskans, other recovering troops also benefit.
“We do bring a limited number of folks who apply from the Lower 48,” Hastings said. “Five wounded women warriors from the Lower 48 came up last year. One gal from Arkansas who had a significant back injury was worried about not being able to do anything. We were able to get her in an airboat, up into a tree stand … safely in and out. She came back in tears, because she hadn’t believed she’d ever be able to do something like that again.
“She hunted for a bear all evening, but didn’t even really care about killing one. Now the gals who hunt with us always camo up (put on lots of camouflage), but we were kidding her—what’s the point if you’re going to be flashing that big smile all the time!”
Call James Hastings/Alaska’s Healing Hearts, 907-232-1527 for more information or visit www.alaskashealinghearts.com.