One way to deal with the trauma of combat is to enter therapy. Yet another way: Scooping piles of pig crap.
On a 19-acre spread between Bend and Redmond, a group of Central Oregon military veterans are establishing their own non-traditional support group. Rather than receiving assistance in a clinical fashion, the vets have found a place where they can enjoy the camaraderie and support of other veterans—all while shoveling manure.
"I have severe PTSD, and I'd rather go scoop pig shit than deal with a lot of people in the community," says retired Col. Pam Mindt, who served in numerous deployments in two combat zones. Mindt is one of several veterans we met at the Central Oregon Veterans Ranch, located near Highway 97.
Mindt voluntarily labors at many of the outdoor chores at the ranch, caring for the herds of sheep, pigs and other animals used as food and revenue for the nonprofit. "We have three hives of bees—Navy, Army, and Marines—for honey production," Mindt points out, a smile on her face.
During a tour of the ranch, a group of veterans huddled around an outdoor stove grilling cheese sandwiches and enjoying the heat from the grill as heavy rain came down. Jim Montoya is a retired Navy Vietnam-era vet who moved to Central Oregon from Colorado. "I can do whatever at the ranch and it's just nice to have the camaraderie of other vets," he says. Montoya had volunteered with Central Oregon Veteran's Outreach before volunteering at the ranch.
Wray Harris, who served in Iraq, says the rural setting feeds his soul. "This is a place where I can be around people who, when something goes wrong, they will actually do something in a hands-on situation to remedy a problem."
Alison Perry, along with a financial partner, helped to found the ranch. Before this, she worked with the Veteran's Administration in Portland, finding that the traditional clinical approach was not entirely meeting vets' needs. Instead of more of the traditional medical model, Perry wanted a holistic environment that would help heal and nurture veterans. The former model, Perry says, was one "that looks at you as having a medical disorder and needing to be medicated and fixed."
It might not scream "holistic," but eventually Perry settled on a sheep ranch. Perry, along with her financial partner, closed on a Central Oregon ranch in April 2015.
In addition to its current function, Perry says the ranch has recently completed an application to become an adult foster care facility beginning in 2017. Plans include housing for up to four terminally-ill veterans or veterans who have no family. "Typically, some of these veterans want other veterans around at the end of their lives. They often see other veterans as their true family," she explains.
The Central Oregon Veterans Ranch is one of only a few such organizations in the nation to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help expand its outreach.