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Former students work to build veteran therapy facility

Published: Monday, January 27, 2014

Updated: Monday, January 27, 2014 23:01



Graphic representation of the 5,000-square-foot retreat center -that is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Though the tangible effects of combat are often hard to ignore, the “invisible injuries” of combat trauma or brain injury affect one in three combat service members, according to the Lone Survivor Foundation.

The Lone Survivor Foundation was established in 2007 by Marcus Luttrell, the Navy SEAL upon whose experiences the recent movie “Lone Survivor,” starring Mark Wahlberg as Luttrell, is based. The foundation offers retreats to returning soldiers, paying for everything from transportation to food. Last year, retreats were held in temporary locations in Atlanta, Ga., San Antonio and Houston.

To aid the work the foundation does in supporting returning soldiers and their families, Brian and Clint Byrom, both Class of 2002, are building a permanent retreat center for the foundation. BLINT Construction, the company owned by the Byroms, plans to finish the 5,000-square-foot center in Crystal Beach, Texas, by the end of the year.

Terry Jung, executive director for the Lone Survivor Foundation, said the foundation offers soldiers the opportunity to heal the psychological injuries sustained in war.

“Basically, the foundation was founded because soldiers coming back — and their families — need support with the ‘invisible wounds of war,’ which is beyond what is offered at the [U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs],” Jung said. “So what we did was design a program around what worked for Marcus when he came back from his experiences with the Navy SEALs. What we do is hold retreats that are therapeutic in nature, that are educational, that are focused on post traumatic stress disorder, mild brain injury, sexual assault and pain management for soldiers and their families.”

The foundation focuses on the family as well as the soldier, one of the many things that make the retreats offered by the foundation unique. Jung said the family is a crucial aspect of helping soldiers re-adjust to civilian life.

“We do retreats for the whole family because we believe that a soldier can’t heal and reintegrate himself back into society successfully if that integration doesn’t work with his family as well,” Jung said. “There are many retreats that are great for veterans and for their families that are getaway retreats. Our retreats are not getaway retreats in that they are therapeutic in nature and meant to heal those invisible wounds of the soldiers and their families.”

Jung said the new retreat center will help the foundation better serve the soldiers, as the foundation is no longer subject to the limitations of temporary facilities.

“Up until this point in time, we could either rent facilities or have facilities donated to us to do these retreats at,” Jung said. “One of the great things this retreat center is going to provide is it’s going to allow us to design the retreat facility in such a way that we can provide access for the soldiers and their families anytime during the year and we can do it in an environment that is conducive to what we do as opposed to being subject to the facilities rented to us.”

BRINT Construction will oversee the project and donated the lot on which the complex is to be built. Brian Byrom, general manager at BRINT Construction, said he wanted to help the foundation because of its mission to help soldiers.

“Over the years, we really wanted to do this project and give them something, we just didn’t know what,” Brian said. “A couple years ago, we had this idea. My dad, brother and I got together and thought about giving them a lot down here in Crystal Beach and then raising the money and getting the materials and building them a retreat center that they can hold retreats at.”

Brian said the foundation’s undertaking resonated with him personally, and experiences with his family motivated him to help it.

“We settled on them specifically because of their mission and what they do with the soldiers. It’s a very important aspect of this,” Brian said. “My grandfather fought in WWII and he very clearly had some PTSD, but they didn’t talk about it then and you just dealt with it, and one way you did that was with drinking. What LSF is doing is fixing a problem that has impacted a lot of people’s lives. So it’s an issue that is close to the heart. It was a no-brainer — when we came across them everything clicked.”

Brian said BRINT and the foundation have raised $350,000 to date, or about 40 percent of the $1 million project. Construction will begin around the first week of April and continue until around November.

Brian said Texas Frog Fest, a festival held during the first weekend of spring break, will be the major fundraiser for the Crystal Beach Retreat Center, and will take place March 8-9 in Crystal Beach.

While the foundation has managed to touch the lives of many soldiers and their families, Jung said what makes it special is the healing nature of the retreat that can often only be achieved through individual intervention

“What’s important to understand is that numbers are not important in this process, it’s quality,” Jung said. “It’s the healing of the soldiers that requires one-on-one counseling. Numbers are not what we’re all about. We’re not interested in having retreats with 50 to 100 people in a given retreat. Most of our retreats we like to have somewhere from six to 20 with the families, so that we can focus on the needs of the individual.”

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