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Cody’s “Downrange Warriors” Helps Veterans Heal From Service-Related Trauma

in News/Veterans

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
*Some names in this story have been changed.

“Richard” lives in a dark place.

Not his home, mind you. Or his life with his wife, “Linda.” It’s the memories of his actions in Vietnam 40 years ago that haunt him.

“You know, every time you go to the hospital and they take your temperature and they ask you that stuff, ‘Have you ever thought about committing suicide?’” Richard said. “I went in there, at the VA Clinic, and I’ve always said, ‘Yeah, I thought about it. In fact, I could do it now.’” 

A dozen suicide attempts, multiple marriages, and physical scars from horrific events that occurred half a world away are outward symbols of what Richard, whose name was changed for purposes of this story, carries with him every minute of every day.

It’s the mission of a Cody organization to bring veterans like Richard out of those dark places and into the light. 

Downrange Warriors is an outreach program that has helped hundreds of former soldiers and their spouses find a measure of peace, helping them to reconcile their pasts with brighter, more peaceful futures.

The Cody-based program, which was organized in 2017, operates as a franchise of REBOOT Recovery, a 12-week, faith-based, peer-led course that helps veterans, active-duty military and their families heal from service-related trauma. 

One Led To Hundreds

Todd Bray, one of the program’s co-founders, said he and two others started the program as a way to help just one veteran and since then, they have helped hundreds.

“We talk (in the program) about the roots that are underneath the tree, and the tree limbs are on top – and those are the symptoms, but they’re not the causes,” Bray said. “And the causes are the things that have really gone wrong. 

And what we really are doing, is taking about four weeks for everybody to get to know and trust each other, and start talking honestly and candidly,” he continued. “We have rules of engagement – what is said here, stays here. None of this can ever ever be used against you.” 

Bray’s own experiences were so dark, his work so top-secret, that he kept his life as a military operator completely separate from his life as a family man – which ultimately cost him his first marriage.

“I remember many times coming in through the security gate (at my house),” he said. “It would close behind me, and I would just sit on the hood of my car for an hour or two and try to become a human being again. It’s like stepping from Mars to Earth and then back to Mars again.”

Second Chance

But Bray was given a second chance at love and family. His wife Terri is right there with him at every Downrange Warriors class. 

“None of us make real change until we’re desperate enough,” he said. “And so after the divorce, I lost every friend I had. I lost my Sunday school class. I lost everything. And I finally got to the point – and this is embarrassing, because as a soldier you never give up, and I’ve been in tough places and I never gave up – but I finally said, ‘God, please don’t give up on me.’ 

“And within four years, I had met Terri, we started dating, all these things happened,” he continued. “God pulled it back together. But first what I had to do was, I had to yield.”


In many ways, that’s what Downrange Warriors teaches the veterans who attend the 12-week courses and the weekly support meetings that occur year round (called “Regroup”) – that by becoming vulnerable within a small, safe group of like-minded people, healing can happen. 

“I did 30 years as an operator, I was done,” Bray said. “I came here to hide and die and nobody even know who I was… but what God prepared me for was a mission here that I never dreamed, would never have volunteered for.

“What we’ve found with these guys, is if they’ve really been in the ‘stuff,’ they will not talk to anybody else who hasn’t been in the ‘stuff.’ And God gave me the credentials to be in that conversation.”

Bray said he was concerned at first that the program would be a failure – but he said that at every class (the current class is number 10), participants always show up.

“We didn’t have a single candidate for this program the night before it happened, and now we have, like, 17,” he said. “And I used to fret over that. ‘Oh, there’s not going to be anybody there, and we’re a failure as a ministry,’ and then one day it just dawned on me. ‘He’s God, and I’m Todd. He’s got this, so shut up and relax.’”

Bring The Family

Part of the success of Downrange Warriors is the inclusion of the veteran’s family, Bray said.

“We strongly encourage a veteran bringing their spouse,” he said, “because the spouses have secondary PTSD because they’ve been living with this horse’s ass all this time. 

And with the (personal) traumas the wives bring in, all of a sudden we realize God has not only started healing these combat veterans, but everybody around them,” he continued. “And whenever everybody around you is healed, you can heal.”

Richard’s experiences in Vietnam were so horrific that when he speaks of them, it brings the grizzled, war-hardened veteran to tears. Those multiple suicide attempts? Richard said he can’t explain why he is still alive.

“Each time I did it with a revolver, I got six misfires,” he said. “But then when I took it to the range, it fired. That probably happened about a dozen times.” 

“Something was on my side.”

Violence Was a Drug

Richard credits Bray, and the pastor of the CMA Church in Cody (which hosts the Downrange Warriors meetings), for helping to bring him into the light – although he still struggles with the guilt of his past actions.

“Violence for me, back then, it was a drug,” he said. “But you get to the point where your dreams catch up to you. And Todd’s helped me, I would talk to Todd, and I talked to Randy, the pastor. And I told him what I’ve done. You know, he said, ‘Well, God can forgive you.’ God’s gonna forgive me for (what I’ve done)? That’s a hard one to swallow.”

However, Richard said that his experiences may be of value to others who are struggling with guilt and anger after their own combat ordeals.

“I know where you’ve been,” he said. “Your war is what mine was, but mine was 50 years ago, the same shit. That’s all Iraq and Afghanistan was, you know, you’re fighting different people, but same shit”

‘You Guys Saved My Life’

Bray said the majority of the veterans who go through the program go on to live productive lives with their families – miles away from the suicidal thoughts that drove them to the edge.

“I saw one the other day, he said, ‘You guys saved my life.’ He invited us to his wedding, he got married, and now they’ve just had a baby,” Bray said. “And that’s what I’m really after. That guy at that time had nothing. Now he has a family of five.” 

The ghosts never really go away, Bray acknowledged – but for many of those who have participated in Downrange Warriors, they find the tools to manage the dreams and memories, so the light can overcome the darkness.

“I live with this every day,” Richard said. “Every day. I’ve got a long way to go for closure. I don’t know if God’s gonna accept me or not.”

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Indian Veterans Memorial Dedication Thursday Morning At Fort Washakie

in News/Veterans

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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Gov. Mark Gordon head a large group of national and local dignitaries attending the dedication of the Path of Honor – Wind River Veterans Memorial Thursday morning.

The event will occur at the south edge of Fort Washakie near the Frank Wise Center at 10:30 a.m.

It consists of four large stone tablets with images carved in them signifying the major wars endured by the United States.  Indians from the Wind River Reservation have a long tradition of serving in the military.  It is estimated the Native Americans enlist at a rate five times greater than other ethnic groups.

The project has been years in the making.  Some of the major donors to make it a reality include the Hughes Charitable Foundation, High Country (Connell), the Mantegazza family, Rocky Mountain Pre-Mix, SDI Contractors, Central Bank and Trust, Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund, and the Wyoming Humanities Council.

The artwork was done by Wyoming artist Jon Cox.

One of the organizers of the event, former State Rep. Scott Ratliff, confirmed that Haaland will be in attendance.

The event will be livestreamed on the project’s web site at wrrvetmemorial.org.

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Wreaths honor fallen Wyoming veterans

in News/military
Volunteers lay wreaths on the graves of Wyoming veterans during the “Wreaths Across America” ceremony Saturday at the Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery in Casper. (Photo: Tim Mandese)

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Volunteers placed wreaths on the graves of 4,200 Wyoming veterans on Saturday as part of a national drive that saw more than 2 million volunteers similarly decorate the graves of service members across the country.

Members of Wreaths Across America were joined by members of the Natrona County Republican Women and Patriot Guard Riders in placing the wreaths on graves during ceremonies at three Natrona County cemeteries.

As part of Wreaths Across American, an estimated 61,000 volunteers laid 400,000 wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery alone. Nationally, more than 2,000,000 participants placed wreaths in 1,640 locations.

In Wyoming, ceremonies were held at the Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery, the only veterans cemetery in Wyoming. Later in the afternoon, ceremonies were held at Highland Park and Memorial Gardens cemeteries. Dignitaries and participants packed the chapel at OTVC to pay their respects, including U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi.

“Per capita, Wyoming’s volunteering at this event is greater than even those at Arlington,” Enzi said. 

Letters from U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, in which both expressed their gratitude for Wyoming’s fallen veterans, were also read. 

Casper broadcaster Bob Price served as master of ceremonies for the event, instructing those laying a wreath that as the wreath is placed at the foot of the grave, the person laying the wreath should speak the veteran’s name aloud. 

“A person really dies twice,” he said. “Once when they pass away, and once when their name is spoken for the last time.”

Victoria Lockard, the co-chair for Wreaths Across America’s Natrona County chapter, estimated that 1,000 volunteers took part in the wreath laying in Casper.

She added 3,000 wreaths were placed on graves at the Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery, 1,000 were placed at the Highland Park Cemetery and 200 were laid at Memorial Gardens.

Each year the number of wreaths placed grows and the number of volunteers grows, Lockard said.

“Each year it continues to grow, and we are so happy with the turnout of our crowd and their generosity,” she said.  

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