For five years running I had the honor to both attend one of these retreat circuits and then become a mentor to other returning veterans of war. I can say without reservation that this program made me a better father.
Fatherhood, masculine identity, paternity, and the meaning of being a soldier in American culture can often create some internal conflicts that do not easily sort themselves out in a solitary state.
When a soldier is sent off to war, his role as a father is stalled. The nature of companionship and character development of his children is now a proxy job. To segue back into that role upon returning home is a daunting task, particularly for those with multiple tours of duty.
To meld back into the social fabric, contribute to the engine of capitalism with learned military skills, maintain resiliency and equanimity, both at home and work, and simultaneously function as a guide and role model for your children’s development, does not come with the wave of a wand.
For us Vietnam Veterans it took decades to find and keep that treasured balance. At 64 years old, it remains a to be a daily task. Now with the sage guidance of Betty Merritt and the platoon of men and women who are graduates of the Merritt Center Veterans Program, I can access a tool box of skills to approach the day, and end it with a joy and peace that surpasses all understanding.
Should you have a giving program in your family and an inclination to support a cause, this is one that will make you sleep well!
Betty and Al Merritt have dedicated their lives to making veterans of war whole again. The most stand-out feature of this program which sets it apart from all others is that it is free to the veteran.
On this Father’s Day, you can be assured the Merritt Retreat Center is producing better dads. I would call that a Father’s Day gift to America.
Happy Father’s Day, American Veterans!
The Merritt Center’s Vet Program: Basic Training for Life: Vets Helping Vets Return from Combat at The Merritt Lodge in Payson, Arizona was started in 2005 by Betty Merritt, The Merritt Center’s Board of Directors, and the veterans and Vet Mentors from combat areas.
It was designed to provide a safe space for veterans to come together in a talking circle to trust each to share and hold their words in confidence. A model of how the structures and transitions of the Cycle of Life is presented which allows each vet to understand how the military cycle of deployment and civilian life differ and the resulting processing needed to return to “normal”. The program is educational teaching techniques to release the trauma of war and interrupt the triggers of trauma flashbacks. A vet mentor is available to each veteran as he/she enters the program. The mentor provides a unique perspective as a veteran who has walked through the transition process to embrace a new life.
The Program is free to the combat veteran and consists of four weekend retreats over a six month period. The first two weekends encourage the understanding of the traumatic events of combat; the third creates a ceremony to release the toxins of trauma making space for the fourth retreat: which provides the environment to create a vision of the dream of a new life and ends with a family and friends graduation ceremony.
There is a dream waiting to come true in every person. We all have a purpose. Veterans have a need to serve so each vet is encouraged to return to give back by becoming a vet mentor.
We are now in our eighth program for men and our sixth program for women. We have provided 320 free weekends to male vets and 200 free weekends to women vets. We have seen men who had not had a healthy relationship since joining the service because they had lost the ability to feel and express emotions create a partnership based on healthy sharing of “feelings”. We have witnessed vets who had decided to commit suicide decide there was a reason to live and now have healthy families. We have seen vets who have isolated because no one understood their pain join the program and connected with others who have walked their path in combat.
We now have over two dozen returning vet mentors for the men and for the women programs.
The program is sponsored by The Merritt Center, a non profit, 501C3 organization and the program is supported by donations. It costs the Center $150 per veteran per retreat. The cost of the entire program of four weekends is $6,000 to $10,000. A program for men and a program for women is scheduled pre year with the expected cost of: $12,000 to $20,000. As of this writing the Center has not received any grant from any governmental organization – so the 14 programs provided, to date, have been supported by personal donations. The Center is now seeking funds for next year’s programs.
There is a PayPal account access on the Veterans Page of The Merritt Center website: www.merrittcenter.org