Soldiers returning home from combat can bring with them invisible wounds that affect their reintegration with civilian society and their relationships with friends and family.
The Texas A&M Lone Survivor Chapter, which was started by Brooke Ferguson, biomedical sciences sophomore, is the first university branch of the Lone Survivor Foundation and works to provide support and healing to soldiers.
“Marcus Luttrell, retired [U.S.] Navy SEAL, founded Lone Survivor Foundation in 2010 with a focus on post-traumatic stress disorder, mild traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma and chronic pain with the desire that people could heal in [a] natural setting much the same way he did,” said Jennifer Brown, volunteer coordinator for the Lone Survivor Foundation.
Luttrell recounted his own experiences of combat in Afghanistan in the No. 1 New York Times best-selling book “Lone Survivor” and a second book, “Service,” following a medical discharge from the armed forces.
Luttrell committed to helping veterans and servicemembers heal from all aspects of war by running fully funded retreats for those affected by war and their families.
Ferguson’s interest in the cause was sparked after her dad, a veteran, suggested that she read “Lone Survivor.” After reading “Service,” Ferguson decided she wanted to be a part of the organization.
“He found a lot of peace within himself by being out on his ranch in solitude and being with animals and horses and his family,” Ferguson said. “So what the Lone Survivor Foundation has done and is continuing to do, is that they have healing centers and retreats. The veterans or active duty members who want to can go to these retreats and their families can go with them. And it’s this holistic approach to healing all of their invisible wounds.”
Ferguson emailed Brown, and within a matter of days Ferguson had gained the foundation’s support.
The foundation, which will host around 100 fundraising events across the country this year, often works with outside groups who contact them looking to help out. This is, however, the foundation’s first established branch.
Students from Sam Houston State University have already contacted Ferguson with a desire to start a similar organization on their campus. This is exactly what Ferguson and Brown hoped would happen.
“The goal for it is to see it be self-sustaining and become a model for other groups across the country,” Brown said. “We are nationwide, both in our events and our retreats, and we have a lot of groups that are individuals that want to do more across the country.”
Through volunteering with events hosted by the foundation, Ferguson has developed relationships with veterans and has deepened her passion for the cause.
“It’s crazy how many people you can meet there and just stand there and talk,” Ferguson said. “I had vets come up and all of the sudden open up and talk about their lives. So through that, I’ve created relationships with some of the guys.”
Ferguson said one veteran in particular, who lives in Caldwell, told her his story, which she considered an honor.
“If they feel comfortable to tell me, they feel comfortable to tell me,” Ferguson said. “I think that’s what a lot of these guys need, because I know I’ll never be able to fully understand what it’s like. And no one will. College students especially. You can say, ‘Sure, I understand,’ but they don’t want someone to understand, just someone to listen to them.”
Garhett Wyatt, biomedical sciences junior, was similarly inspired through reading “Service,” and has been working with Ferguson since she gained the support of the foundation.
Ferguson and Wyatt formed a Facebook group and a small group of officers and have been surprised by the outpouring of support the organization has received.
“It’s all just happened extremely fast,” Wyatt said. “The support from the Lone Survivor Foundation and the support from other college students who want to join has just all snowballed and made us work really hard to get this turned into a real organization.”
Wyatt said the chapter hopes to draw from the existing population of foundation volunteers within Bryan-College Station. Having a local chapter would simplify the volunteering process and make it more accessible to a larger number of people.
“There’s a large community of volunteers that work with Lone Survivor in the Bryan-College Station area, but it’s headquartered in Houston,” Wyatt said. “So a lot of people have to travel to these events. Ultimately what we want to do is have events going on in College Station, so that the people who are volunteering don’t have to travel as far and so that we can have students involved too.”
All funds raised by the Texas A&M chapter will go directly to the Lone Survivor Foundation to help fund its retreats.
The group is planning two events this year — a tailgate before the Missouri game and a mud run sometime in the spring.
The tailgate will be in conjunction with the Lone Survivor Foundation and will have breakfast food throughout the game, as well as Lone Survivor merchandise for sale.