The words came out slowly and deliberately as Dave June, a U.S. Army veteran who spent over a year in Afghanistan nearly a decade ago, acknowledged the difficulties he continues to face. “I still struggle,” he said. “It is very difficult to get out of the combat mode.”
The inaugural Heroes In Transition (HIT) Fall Couples Retreat, held October 21-22, was intended to support those like Dave and his wife, Angela. “Sometimes when you’re not around people or couples like you, they don’t understand you,” Angela said. “To be around people who get you and go through the same things as you is the best feeling in the world.”
Dave and Angela were among the 22 military couples who took part in the retreat, held at Red Jacket Resorts in South Yarmouth and sponsored by The Golf Club at Sacconnesset. It was facilitated by John and Kristen Alexander, two longtime HIT supporters who are familiar with what military couples face when a loved one transitions from active service back to civilian life.
“We are celebrating our 26th wedding anniversary [this year], but it has not been all peaches and roses,” Kristen admitted to the group.
She recalled one moment when the two were putting together a coat rack. What should have been a simple task turned out to be “one of the worst experiences of my life,” Kristen said. “It was at that time where we figured out he was bringing home what he had experienced there [in the Middle East] and it was really hard. I didn’t get it. He couldn’t separate it.”
That incident was the turning point for the Alexanders, who went to the Veterans Administration and began counseling to save their marriage. “Not being together was not an option,” Kristen said.
HIT Offers Support
Above all, the weekend retreat was a reminder that help is available. “We’re always going to be here,” Nicole Spencer, HIT’s executive director, told the gathering. “Use us as a resource, please.”
The event kicked off with three speakers – Loretta LaRoche, Dr. Michael Rocha, and Dr. Marie Bartram – who touched on humor, health, and ways to show your partner love and affection.
As she did at HIT’s one-day workshop this spring, LaRoche had couples laughing as a way to relieve their stress. “I use humor as a coping mechanism,” she said afterwards. “Without humor you lose perspective. You’ve got to learn to laugh at certain aspects of life … if we take things so seriously, we lose our ability to be resilient and to bounce back.”
Also returning was Dr. Bartram, director of All 4 Healing Wellness Center in Bourne, who identified ways for couples to strengthen their relationship. Her tips included everything from giving compliments to spending quality time together to showing affection through physical touch. “Being together, being a couple, is not easy. There are so many challenges,” she said. “But if you do the work, it is worth it. I promise.”
An Appreciation for Veterans
On Saturday afternoon, couples also had a chance to bond with one another at Camp Greenough’s adventure course, where veterans and their spouses climbed rock walls, walked on a rope bridge roughly 20 feet in the air, and soared above the ground on a zip line.
The evening concluded with a romantic dinner, featuring live music courtesy of Rick Lockwood, at Red Jacket Resorts.
The next morning, Michele and Kender DesRosiers of Ipswich said the weekend was exactly what they needed. “Most people, I don’t think, appreciate the sacrifice we have to go through,” said Kender, who serves in the Air National Guard and recently returned from his first deployment in the Middle East. “They don’t understand your struggles, the PTSD, or the other things going on in your life. To see this kind of organization upholding these values is really significant to us and we feel a sense of belonging. And we feel we mean something.”
For HIT co-founder Cyndy Jones, whose son Eric was killed in Afghanistan in 2009, the weekend was an opportunity to give thanks to those who serve and have served. “No greater love has one who lays down his life for another,” she said in quoting the Gospel of John. “That is the way I look at my son’s death and the way I look at all of you who served, who put on a uniform and were willing to give your life for us. It is the greatest thing we can do. Don’t thank us. This is our way of thanking you.”