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Wounded vets coping with effects of war through outdoor events

By JJ VELASQUEZ
July 24, 2010 at 2:24 a.m.

Justin Foltyn takes part in the bareback  bronc riding at the 2010 Victoria Open Pro Rodeo. The rodeo played host to Warrior's Weekend, a nonprofit that organizes activities and events for soldiers with emotional or physical wounds.

POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER SYMPTOMSFlashbacks - reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating

Bad dreams

Frightening thoughts.

Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience

Feeling emotionally numb

Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry

Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past

Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.

Being easily startled

Feeling tense or "on edge"

Having difficulty sleeping

Having angry outbursts

SOURCE: NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF MENTAL HEALTH

A nasally radio voice crackled through the speaker system at the Warrior's Weekend Open Rodeo Friday.

"Please stand up and recognize our veterans," the man announced just before Staff Sgt. Valerie Villarreal Romans stepped up to the microphone and sang the national anthem.

The Victoria Horseman's Club Arena played host this weekend to a rodeo many wounded war veterans attended. The nonprofit group, Warrior's Weekend, has organized weekend fishing trips for soldiers with wounds both physical and psychological.

Billy Bowers, one of the organization's directors, says the aim is to get these men and women out of the hospitals and into the great outdoors, mingling with others who face the same traumas from war.

The outings have drawn troops from across the U.S., Bowers said. Out-of-state soldiers appreciate the support they receive from civilians in Texas.

"They have never seen people that pour out their hearts to them like they do back here," Bowers said.

"Texas is probably one of the most patriotic states there is," he added.

Villarreal Romans, who belted out the national anthem in front of the live crowd, was a 10-year veteran of the Army and served in the Iraq War.

She said she appreciates Warrior's Weekend for bringing awareness to the problems that ail wounded soldiers.

"Not everybody gets to come back as whole as others," said Villarreal Romans, who served with her husband, Sgt. Christopher Romans. "By the grace of God, we got there safe and made it back."

Spc. Cassie Blaschke returned from the war with 70 percent post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs evaluates the disorder through percentages to determine how much it impairs a veteran in social and work settings.

Blaschke appreciates the exposure Warrior's Weekend gives to veteran issues.

"Warrior's Weekend has been established by a warrior, one who fights for others," said Blaschke, a Yorktown native.

Blaschke said she is proud of the support she receives in the Golden Crescent and echoed Bowers's thoughts about the great relationship between Texas civilians and veterans of war.

"Veterans have the best benefits being in Texas because Texas takes care of their own, and Texas knows the price of freedom," she said.

Some of the proceeds from the rodeo will go to an Oct. 21 luncheon the organization will put together for all veterans, disabled or not.

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