“The uniform makes for brotherhood, since when it was universally adopted it covers up all differences of class and country.” – Robert Baden-Powell.
For those who serve and have served there is a bond of brotherhood that goes far beyond what a civilian could ever comprehend. Our military is comprised of people from every part of our great nation. People with different morals, beliefs and ideals. Those of various races with various upbringings are suddenly combined and expected to mesh as a unit. One would think this could be a recipe for discord or daily conflict. Instead, they come together and unite as a band of brothers. Any form of prejudice is relinquished, replaced with loyalty and trust. Each soldier is instilled with a tie that runs as deep as blood, sometimes deeper, and knows that he would give his life for his brother-in-arms—and he has zero doubt his comrades in uniform would do the same. Soldiers who 100 percent trust their lives to one another as they are intently focused on the same mission or task at hand. A surreal and unspoken understanding among these warriors exists that mere words fail to describe.
An Exceptional Warrior doesn't have to be a veteran of the war in Iraq or Afghanistan. Vets from past fighting are also welcome. Here, one meets Washington Nationals relief pitcher Sean Doolittle.
Uniting in their cause or mission, living each day dependent on one another. Eventually, they separate returning home. Home to loved ones, friends and family. Although these are also strong bonds that shouldn’t be considered “less than,” it is a different type of bond. Warriors united in bonds of brotherhood are changed in ways, not necessarily “bad”—just different. Ways we cannot understand unless we’ve been there. Returning to new responsibilities, their mission has now changed and they’re on their own. Bill Wilkinson, an associate of the Foundation for Exceptional Warriors, or the F.E.W., said it best in a conversation I recently had with him: “They are returning home to people ready to drive over top of them to get to a red light versus grabbing their hand and taking them with them.” This is the reality of the society in which these warriors are returning to. For many, the transition is hard. They are not weak or broken, it is more a sense of loss. This new mission in life leaves many asking, “What do I do now and how do I do it?”
One organization who fully understands this issue is the F.E.W. Its mission: “To provide adventure-based opportunities to exceptional warriors who served together to heal together.” Its mission focus includes special operations forces, ex prisoners of war, Purple Heart recipients and those recognized with awards for valor from any era. These “Exceptional Warriors” can come together in an outdoor environment for a two- to three-day event at no cost to them. No one is trying to counsel them or try to get them to “talk about it.” Instead, they experience adventure-building activities that draw upon the bonds these people have for their fellow warriors, knowing that they understand one another. And they form new bonds mirrored upon those they experienced in the military. But now they’re enjoying it in their civilian lives. It is a phenomenal concept to help these warriors adjust and transition.
The F.E.W. was founded by Ronny Sweger, whose resume includes a highly decorated career in the Army’s Special Forces that spans over 14 years. He draws from that background to dedicate his latest career pursuit to touching the lives of other Exceptional Warriors—warriors with whom he can identify first hand. Sweger, through talking about the F.E.W., comes across as not a man who is just out to have a good time with buddies at an event. He is a man driven with a passion for his fellow comrades and he is committed to the cause.
Skydiving and deep-sea fishing are among some of the adventures that the F.E.W. uses to underscore the bonding and teamwork that were so much a part of the veterans' lives when they were in the military.
The adventure-based opportunities are quite vast. With choices ranging from hunting, to fishing, to whitewater rafting and even sky diving, there is something for everyone. In 2017, the F.E.W. put more than 400 Exceptional Warriors into the field in over 20 states. How is all this possible at zero cost to the warriors? The F.E.W. operates entirely on a donation basis. Other organizations, individuals and companies who value and understand the benefit of the cause donate to make everything possible. Per the website of the F.E.W., the organization's overhead of less than 3 percent, allowing 97 percent of all money donated to go toward funding the activities. And the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has recognized the F.E.W. for meeting "the highest standards of public accountability and program effectiveness,” the website boasts. This speaks volumes to the effectiveness of the organization and what it is that they are accomplishing. The following testimonial is a perfect example:
“The F.E.W.! I took a day fishing trip out of Morehead City, N.C., on the Crickett II. ... This boat has multiple world record shark catches. Captain Joe is a superior captain, and hoot to be around. I enjoyed the day with three other warriors, Denis, Eric and Bill (N.C. F.E.W. representative). What a group of guys! We shared stories of our deployments, misfortunes, sacrifices, and our future plans. It’s amazing how 4 strangers who all served in multiple conflicts can bond in a short period of time while trolling around for fish. "As a result of this trip we exchanged some information and are going to try and work together and provide some hunting opportunities for other exceptional warriors through a couple hunt clubs I belong to. "I had a great time and appreciate the opportunity to participate in this event on this historic boat!!!”
Sgt. Maj. John Sackett
If you, or someone you know is an Exceptional Warrior have them visit exceptionalwarriors.org, where they can see upcoming events and fill out an application to attend. If you want to donate you can do so at the website and Facebook.
These warriors have given so much. They should be celebrated and commended for their selfless sacrifice.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13