Over 98,000 military veterans live in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia and many struggle with service-related traumas like post-traumatic stress and brain injury resulting from combat, deployments, training accidents, or military sexual trauma. The effects of these traumas can last years or even a lifetime and can destroy relationships, careers, and the person’s ability to build a new life outside of the military. However, there is hope for these veterans as programs become available to help. One of the more promising of these comes in the form of a transformative healing retreat called Operation Tohidu® developed by Melwood Veterans Services and available to injured veterans nationwide.
Reconnecting to the Warrior Spirit
Operation Tohidu®, from a Cherokee word meaning peace of mind, body, and spirit, is a five-day intensive retreat at Melwood’s 108-acre Retreat Center in Nanjemoy, Maryland. Each retreat serves 8-16 participants, is free to them, and caters to male and female veterans and active service members (as well as their spouses, partners, or caregivers on couples’ retreats).
When veterans arrive, they commonly feel hesitant about interacting and getting out of their comfort zone, however, for most the opportunity to reconnect with like-minded people is what motivates them to come. Over the course of the five-day retreat, the group participates in outdoor activities, introspective exercises, and therapeutic pursuits such as yoga, acupuncture, and art therapy. Confidence-building physical challenges and group discussions are combined with proven techniques for the self-management of symptoms, stressors, and responses to reduce anxiety, alleviate depression, and reframe traumatic experiences.
A big part of the success of the program is the group dynamic. Each group shares the experience of overcoming physical obstacles and challenges, along with activities designed to promote emotional recovery and peace with the past. Staff members include certified recreational professionals and licensed clinical social workers many of whom serve in part because of their own personal experience working through service-related trauma.
Building on the shared camaraderie of military service, participants work to build a “new normal.” In fact, 74 percent of past participants say they remain in contact with other Operation Tohidu® alumni.
Inspiring Confidence and Independence
Retired Brigadier General David Blackledge heads Melwood Veterans Services, and is pleased with the results, stating, “Eighty-six percent of the participants have reported a healthier, more positive view of themselves and cited progress toward a personal goal because of the retreat.” General Blackledge adds that of those surveyed, 84 percent recognized that what they learned at the retreat has helped them develop healthier relationships, and over 90 percent of alumni say they continue to use at least one coping strategy learned at Operation Tohidu®.
In the last 24 months, Operation Tohidu® has served over 250 veterans and in 2019, MVS hopes to serve more than 500.
Those Who Support Operation Tohidu
Since its inception, Operation Tohidu® has been primarily funded by Melwood and only recently, has it received support from the public, corporations and foundations.
MVS’s partnership with American Airlines for the past three years has resulted in the donation of 3 million air miles each year which has given Operation Tohidu® the resources to help veterans from around the country.
In October 2018, McCrea Heating & Air Conditioning Services in Maryland raised $66,000 for Operation Tohidu® through their annual charity golf tournament. The money is being used to build a new outdoor ropes challenge course which should be completed in October 2019.
It costs $3,780 per veteran for a one-week retreat. Please consider making a difference in a veteran’s life by sponsoring this program.
If you or someone you know would be a good candidate for Operation Tohidu® you can apply online for the free five-day retreat.
Melwood is one of the largest employers of people of differing abilities in the country, employing more than 1,600 workers – nearly 1,000 of whom are people of differing abilities. Melwood offers job placement, job training, life skills for independence, and support services to more than 2,300 people each year in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Melwood also has an inclusive summer camp program for children and provides employment and support services to veterans and active duty military members who have experienced service-related trauma or injury. For more information, visit www.Melwood.org.