LACONIA — A group of local military veterans and supporters has begun the initial steps towards creating a support initiative for wounded warriors and injured first responders. Army retiree and Iraqi Freedom veteran Kurt Webber of Gilford was inspired to action after conversations with Gilford resident and West Point classmate Army Major General Gregg Martin and chose the group's working title of the Patriot Resilient Leader Institute (PRLI).
Webber heads up the group locally. Its mission is to provide wounded warriors and injured first responders the opportunity to come to the Lakes Region for a brief respite of recreation, personal counseling, group seminars and team building.
"Our goal is to use the natural beauty of the Lakes Region with all its amenities and recreational activities to bolster the spirits and help these dedicated individuals as they recover their physical, mental and emotional well-being" said Webber. Joining Webber in this initiative are Army Vietnam Veterans Frank Tilton of Laconia and John O'Brien and Dennis Corrigan of Gilford, Air Force Vietnam Veterans Don Morrissey and John Walsh and Marine Vietnam Veteran Chris Ray all of Gilford. Also on the team are former Gilford Fire Chief John Beland and Frank Tuscano, Manager of the Fireside Inn and Suites in Gilford.
The group has researched the nation-wide network of Wounded Warrior organizations and sites and determined that no such program currently operates in Northern New England. Using Veterans Administration figures, there are over 200,000 Gulf War/Afghanistan era vets in the six New England states with that figure due to rise in the years ahead as more combat veterans leave active military service. The VA estimates that 20% of these veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with a substantial number also having Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). To help New England veterans in these categories re-enter the civilian world and to provide them the day-to-day skills they'll need to be successful out of uniform, the Patriot Resilient Leader Institute was formed.
Plans call for bringing wounded warriors in groups of 10-20 to the Lakes Region for 3-4 day sessions during which the individuals, some accompanied by their family members and/or caregivers, would receive free lodging and meals at a local venue. Their time here will include seasonal recreational activities such as skiing, ice fishing, boating, hiking, scuba diving, swimming, snowmobiling and horseback riding. Apart from the recreational aspects, the groups will receive seminar sessions in a variety of topics which may include financial management, job search skills, avoiding/overcoming addictive behaviors, developing strong family and community relationships and methods to apply the leadership and organizational skills learned in the military to civilian success. The seminars will be presented by experts in the fields, including board member John Walsh, a psychologist, and other experts licensed or certified as appropriate for their subject matter.
Board member John Beland brings his career experience as a First Responder to the group's planning. "Police, firefighters and EMTs, as First Responders to traumatic emergencies, can suffer from a similar type of PTSD as combat veterans" said Beland. "Additionally, the discipline and organizational structure of First Responders frequently mirrors a military organization so it's natural for people from our career area to sit side by side and provide mutual support to our brothers and sisters in the military" he added. The PRLI has initiated contact with the Boston Police Department to identify potential guests for the program.
"The PRLI Team has embarked on a very ambitious initiative which can only succeed with the strong support of the community and corporate partners here in the Lakes Region, in the State and throughout New England" said Board Member John O'Brien. He went on to say that these men and women whom we term "wounded warriors" have made great personal sacrifices in service to our country while first responders work hard to keep our communities safe every day. "We need to do all we can to make their transition from combat service to civilian status or first responder transition back into public safety careers as easy and productive as possible.'' says O'Brien.
The PRLI hopes to schedule its first veterans/responders sessions beginning in May. Currently, the PRLI has no funding other than board donations. Anyone wishing to learn more about this project or make a donation of financial support, goods or services may do so by visiting the group's website at www.prli.us or by calling Webber at 520-3989. Financial donations may also be sent directly to the PRLI Account, c/o Bank of New Hampshire, 62 Pleasant Street, Laconia, NH 03246.
(seated L-R) PRLI Board Members John O'Brien, Kurt Webber (standing) Don Morrissey and Chris Ray going over organizational plans. (Courtesy photo)