BLUEMONT, Va. —
On a sprawling, tree-framed landscape, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff joined about 400 guests today for the official grand opening of Boulder Crest Retreat for seriously wounded service members, veterans and their families.
Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr. commended retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Ken Falke and his wife, Julia, who donated the land and realized their vision of providing free use of a lodge, cabins, activities and programs that provide respite and aid in reconnection, recovery and rehabilitation.
“As more than 12 years of war come to a close for the magnificent men and women who have been fighting it, our collective obligation to take care of them will not end,” Winnefeld said. “The majority of the seen and unseen injuries our warriors have endured from Iraq, … Afghanistan and other places are scars they’ll bear for life.”
With medical facilities such as the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and others just a road trip away, Boulder Crest Retreat, Winnefeld said, goes the extra mile to not only be a home away from home, but a home away from clinics and hospitals.
“The severity of many veterans’ physical and emotional trauma suggests long-term care needs that will surpass our publicly available medical capacity well into the future,” the admiral said.
The 37-acre, Americans With Disabilities Act-accessible retreat already has proven popular, with bookings in each of its four private cabins through 2013 and projected recreation and resources for 250 to 500 families each year.
Each cabin accommodates up to six people and is available for two- to 14-day stays, and guests also can gather in the 6,000-square-foot, two-story lodge to connect with other families and participate in programs.
Visitors also can enjoy outdoor amenities such as an archery range, nature trails, a playground, an organic garden, a bird sanctuary and a fishing pond, while recreational activities include nature walks, Shenandoah River kayaking and swimming, and golf and tennis.
In addition to the retreat’s healing offerings of yoga, meditation, massage therapy, journaling, art and music therapy, Winnefeld also noted featured assistance therapy with dogs and horses, which resonates well with wounded warriors who may be weary of sudden noises and movements.
Winnefeld directly addressed wounded warriors, lauding them for their courage and buoyancy. “I’m continually amazed by your grit and resilience [and] your commitment to ability over disability.”
Julia Falke, too, admired the courage not only of her husband, an explosive ordnance disposal technician, but also of fellow military families, which she said ultimately inspired her journey to Boulder Crest Retreat.
The Falkes lived in military family housing in both Scotland and her native England. “We’d always invite the young families stationed there to come and have dinner and feel the comforts of home,” she said. “You could really see the difference it made.”
Thirty years later, the Falkes bought 200 acres of land in rural Virginia, where they took residence in a large, stone farmhouse atop the hilly grass and briar. The couple began visiting wounded warriors and their families at nearby military hospitals, and soon resumed the tradition of inviting guests over for home-cooked meals and relaxation.
But sending the troops back, Julia said, became less and less practical. So when a friend suggested a writer’s retreat for the Falkes’ countryside, Julia thought of something more meaningful.
“The more we started talking about [Boulder Crest Retreat], the more other people would come to us and say, ‘If you start it, we will help you,’” Julia said.
The Falkes soon secured a 501c3 charitable foundation status, and in less than a year, various donors poured more than $5 million into the organization.
Julia said contributors ranged from the Boy Scouts of America to multi-billion-dollar corporations. “There has been every kind of involvement, the outcome has been unbelievable,” she said.
But the nascent project will continue to grow with the ideas and donations of those who support it, Julia said. “I’ve been crying all day long,” she added. “To see it in reality is so amazing.”
Perhaps the most interesting style of arrival to the grand opening was that of wounded warrior Dana Bowman, who parachuted in by way of tandem jump with an American flag in tow.
In 1994, Bowman, a former special operations troop who once served with Falke, lost both of his legs after being injured while serving on the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team.
Standing tall on legs of steel, Bowman didn’t lose his courage, and he became the first double amputee to re-enlist in the U.S. military. So when Ken Falke asked him to attend the Boulder Crest Retreat grand opening, Bowman said, the decision to help his former comrade was easy.
“Absolutely, I said I’d be there to bring the American flag in … and to land on target, and that’s exactly what we did,” Bowman said. “We’re able to come back, bring the whole team and tandem jump a warrior in for this special event and day.”
Bowman said the retreat, at is essence, is about giving back.
“At the end of the day,” he added, “we all bleed the same way, so we have to rally our troops from the different services to come out and make a difference.”
Elected and public officials, corporate and private organization representatives as well as Vietnam veteran and former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rocky Bleier all attended the grand opening.