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Veterans retreat growing but so are fund-raising challenges
The Patriot Guard motorcycle group escorts two buses of active duty military personnel from the Martinsville Speedway to Fairy Stone State Park on Friday for a weekend retreat. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Sunday, May 18, 2014
By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer
A retreat for active military personnel held at Fairy Stone State Park continues to grow. The only problem with that could be finding funds to support it.
The weekend getaway, organized in 2009 by Fred “Russ” Russell, vice president of B.G.H. Sportsmen for Veterans, has grown from his house on Lackey Hill Road in Bassett to the park itself.
The activity began as a hunting party at Russell’s house that turned to a retreat with two soldiers the first year. This weekend, about 64 veterans were set to attend, Russell said Friday.
The soldiers mainly come from the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) at Fort Eustis in Newport News. Most of them have been injured during combat, Russell said. All of them have been “downrange,” meaning in the path of gunfire.
“Some of us have seen combat, (but) not all of us. Guys that have been downrange ... are sort of a different breed than the guys that were in the office. Those were the ones we wanted” for the getaway, Russell said.
Russell referred to the weekend as a “no-schedule operation,” meaning it is a chance for veterans to relax in an environment many have never seen.
“Now they’re doing something in a less-than-hostile environment, not in the line of fire,” said Frank Broadwater, secretary of B.G.H. Sportsmen for Veterans. That peaceful atmosphere is important, because even those who may not carry physical injuries can have scars.
“The mental strain is there that you don’t see,” he said.
However, there were still plenty of activities planned. Fishing, a cornhole tournament, horseback riding at Tackfully Teamed Riding Academy, a fairy stone hunt and other entertainment was scheduled, though those are optional.
There originally had been more activities, but “we found there wasn’t enough R&R time, so the schedule has been scaled back,” Russell said.
The group arrived via two buses. The Patriot Guard motorcycle troupe led the procession from the Martinsville Speedway to Fairy Stone State Park.
Keith Quarles, president of B.G.H. Sportsmen for Veterans, said that type of support is crucial to any veteran.
“As a veteran, when you’re coming out to things like this, you see that all these people that you don’t know — civilians — are coming together to support them. I think that means a lot,” Quarles said.
Since the event has grown so rapidly, funding naturally is an issue, Russell said. For that reason, the group and its volunteers have tried to increase its presence in seeking donations. The organization is not listed as 501(c) nonprofit organization, which means receiving donations from companies is difficult.
“Let’s say you run a business, (and) I come to you and I ask you to sponsor (the program),” Russell said. “You can’t write it off as a donation to someone that’s not a 501.”
B.G.H. has filed with the Internal Revenue Service to get the designation, but the process is stalled by partisan politics, Quarles said.
After the group sent in the request for the nonprofit status, “anybody that put in their paperwork that they were either conservative, military or whatever, they gave you extra scrutiny, so our paperwork along with a lot of others have been on the back burner,” he said.
President Barack Obama has said that the alleged irregularities by the IRS would be corrected. Until then, however, B.G.S. waits, trying on its own to support a growing program.
“In between all this, we’re still bringing (veterans) out here for turkey hunts, squirrel hunts, fishing, while we’re trying to raise funds,” Russell said.
It all goes back to building morale for the veterans, most of whom will be re-deployed and all of whom still are active. That solidarity with the civilians they serve is important, Broadwater said.
“They like being out in the community. (And) I think this nation has a debt that we owe the veterans,” he said.