The annual Forgotten Coast Warrior Weekend arrives next week.
Pause to the everyday struggles, the impacts, the hidden scars and open wounds that remain from service to a country at war; set aside for a weekend of fishing, beaches, bonfires and banding as brothers and sisters.
The annual Forgotten Coast Warrior Weekend arrives next week, with 16 “veteran heroes” and more than a dozen caregivers arriving to enjoy a Gulf County welcome amid a beach getaway.
Beginning with their Wednesday arrival from spots scattered across the country, from the Carolinas, Okalohoma, even a warrior who makes his home in Oregon.
Continuing through what is always an emotional, but typically only temporary departure, from each other’s lives on Sunday.
The goal is to spend rare and precious time with other folks who have braved, and endured, survived, the fog of war.
“(It is) veterans helping veterans, it’s a simple, simple thing,” said Marine Gunnery Sgt. (Ret.) Glen Silva, a mainstay of prior Warrior Weekend as attendee and liaison/counselor.
“That’s what these events are like. Each one of these events the guys and gals leave here feeling like they are part of a family. Scroll through the groups that have come each year, I guarantee you they are still in touch with each other.”
The weekend will pack a familiar agenda, including an Honor Banquet at the Centennial Building on Thursday night.
The dinner, with Port St. Joe’s LTC (Ret.) Buck Watford, who has been deployed, as an U.S. Army Reservist five times in support of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as keynote speaker, leads into the real fun.
Early the following morning, 6:45 a.m. ET, those that wish will board boats piloted and donated by local captains and owners for the an offshore fishing tournament.
“Those boat owners come from as far away as Atlanta and they compete to be a part of this every year,” said George Duren, a member of the organizing committee.
“They compete and contact me early to make sure they are on the list. They love it.”
But for the non-fishing minded, there will be plenty of offerings.
Shopping trips to downtown Port St. Joe, kayaking on St. Joseph Bay, horseback riding on the beach are all offered.
Various outlets, including civic organizations, will assist with meals and there will also be a picnic on the beach on Saturday.
Maybe as importantly, though, this is about the warriors and if they choose to sit and read a book or laze around WindMark where they will be staying, so be it.
That flexibility, that laid back vibe, informs maybe the high point of each of the four nights: the communal bonfires, the nightly ritual to just sit around and chill with kindred souls.
That dynamic, the embrace from community while providing alone time, minutes, hours away, removed, is at the center of the Warrior Weekend.
“It all makes it a lot easier,” Silva said. “For the veterans, they can open up more to make the experience the best it can be for the veterans and their loved ones.
“For the community … you build a rapport, you treat them like a human being.”
On hand, lending critical expertise, will be Dr. John Maulden, a Vietnam War veteran who lost a leg in that war and is a psychiastrist and veterans advocate from Big Canoe, GA.
Maulden’s role is important given that the most common affliction among these veterans is PTSD.
“He is a really good guy,” Silva said. “Very down-to-earth, he really gets it.
“The injuries are not as readily visible. And that is good because we are getting to them, but bad because we are just now getting to so many of them.”
Duren points to a reality, that the Forgotten Coast Warrior Weekend is as important this year as it was six or seven years ago.
“As the conflict wanes in numbers it gets to be out of sight out of mind,” Duren said, adding that American soldiers continue to serve in harm’s way, front pages or not.
And that the setting is Port St. Joe, Gulf County, where some 150 volunteers will assist in the event, separates the Forgotten Coast Warrior Weekend from many other similar events, Silva said.
“This is such a good environment,” Silva said. “I come here because I still believe in the people and their support of veterans.
“I tell people I am going to my second home. A lot of the veterans, when we talk for the first time, they think I’m from here.”