Transition takes on a new face and unexpected pace with the Valhalla Project. Guest contributor Lt. Col. (Ret.) Cucullu writes about the concept first voiced by his wife, Chris Fontana. The co-founders created this project to help active duty service members, veterans, National Guard and Reserve forces as well as some specially selected civilian war zone workers in healthy transitions.
Participants are active in nature, community projects to maintain the unique setting and pick up skills while enjoying a respite from the individual challenges of their lives.
Genesis of the Valhalla Project
In summer of 2010, my wife and I were homeless. Not in the sense of
sleeping under the overpass in a Kenmore large appliance box, but we really didn’t have a home per se any longer.
The year prior we knew we were heading for a long road trip. We were temporarily living out of an apartment in Barcelona, Spain while arranging an embed with Military Police units in Afghanistan. Knowing that our house in St Augustine, Florida would suffer if not occupied we were lucky to find a friend and National Guard officer to rent it to.
By August 2010, we had already spent a 60-day embed in Regional Command East, primarily out of Gardez, Afghanistan, with the 95th MP Battalion (Task Force Sheriff).
We were already under crunch time for delivery of the initial draft of our forthcoming book, Warrior Police, to our editor at St Martin’s Press.
So, without a home in the US we first went to New Zealand for a month, figuring correctly that it would be a nice break from Afghanistan. It was.
We returned to the US for unfinished business and to begin to work on manuscript sections returned by our editor, Marc Resnick. Looking to escape the heat of Florida we rented a place in the mountains of western North Carolina.
Ever since New Zealand, my wife, Chris, had been chewing away at an idea of establishing a work/retreat center for post 9/11 combat Soldiers. As Chris saw it, “They took care of us while we were downrange. We need to take care of them back here.”
In full agreement, together we worked to describe what we wanted.
Essentially, we would establish a non-profit dedicated to Soldier well
being on a large rural tract in a military-friendly, centrally located, four-season state.
We wanted to find a place where land was fairly easy on the pocketbook as we would be doing all of the original purchasing on our own nickel.
We began the search.
In the meantime, we selected a name for the venture: the Valhalla Project. We based it loosely on the Old Norse legend of Valhalla as the hall for warriors. A place where they could heal and recoup from the stresses of combat and then go out the next day to fight again.
In our case, this meant good, productive work, a place for healthy
recreation and a decompression zone to get ready for future
challenges either back in the Army or in civilian life.
From the onset, we agreed that Valhalla would be available for active duty, veterans, Guard and Reserve forces as well as some specially selected civilian war zone workers, many of whom have undergone similar losses and stresses as Soldiers without even the basic safety net the military offers.
Before long, we decided that the Ozark Mountains of north central
Arkansas was the place. Our search culminated when we found a
beautiful, rolling, open fields and standing timber 200-acre tract
outside of the little town of Yellville. The creeks that ran through
the property and the terrain mix were quite appealing.
By July 2011, we were able to make the purchase and begin to
rehabilitate the neglected 1970s vintage house on the property. It would accommodate up to eight Soldiers.
We’ve been hosting SoldiersFor the last several months. Most have
come for a long weekend and have been able to work on a project of
their choice. They relaxed playing with the many chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits and goats on the property or enjoyed building things like animal housing or outdoor ovens and fire pits.
The price of admission to Valhalla is a pledge to work a minimum of four hours daily. This gives plenty of opportunities for hiking, exploring, creative projects, shooting, and soon, hunting. For
the fishermen in the crowd, an enormous reservoir at Bull Shoals Lake and the nearby White River provide excellent fishing.
In Valhalla – Part II we’ll outline the procedure to guide a qualified Soldier who might wish to spend some time here.
Read more on the Valhalla Project’s founding couple and their military experiences and personal transitions as written by Military Success Network’s editor.