Peaceful lakes. Rambling rivers. Lush meadows. Forested hills. Hunting. Fishing. Fire-side chats. Camaraderie. Fun. In settings like these with Warrior Refuge, military veterans find their stress easing out, the Spirit easing in, and the healing beginning.
David J. Giammona, an Assemblies of God endorsed Army chaplain (through U.S. Missions Chaplaincy Ministries) with 30 years of distinguished service, is the founder and president of Warrior Refuge and WarriorRefuge.com. Currently headquartered on nearly 46 acres near Columbus, Georgia, the ministry’s focus is on helping veterans experience peace with themselves, with God, and helping them to get their lives on track.
The multi-layered Warrior Refuge offers veterans outdoor adventures designed to alleviate stress and build relationships like those forged through combat. Interacting with trained Christian counselors, veterans find themselves building relationships and sharing their stories while coming to understand the significant role God plays in each life.
“These adventures are currently done on ranches and game reserves through partners across the country,” Giammona says. “We recently held a turkey hunt for several veterans on a 46,000-acre piece of property that included world class amenities, guides, and an incredible lodge.”
Josh Cassan, 36, spent 17 ½ years in the military, medically retiring in July 2016. He served as a battle tank commander in Iraq and Afghanistan. His years in the military, including three consecutive extensive overseas deployments that took him away from home for as long as a year at a time, cost him his health and his marriage.
What some may find surprising are the things that meant the most to Cassan during his time with Warrior Refuge.
“It got me outside,” he explains. “I’m like a lot of veterans. I could stay in my house all day long, keep myself secluded and not do anything. But going there got me outside, bonding with some other guys, and gave me some ‘take aways’ to use in my life to get my mind back to normal.”
Of course, the outdoor adventure even caught Cassan a bit off guard. “For not being much of a fisherman, I sure had a blast catching a big fish,” he says. “The camaraderie, being in the outdoors, always doing stuff together, bonding, the conversations, doing normal stuff . . . it was just a lot of fun!”
The Warrior Refuge event was also enjoyed by Captain Alan Chartier, 31, who is still active duty. Chartier sites the opportunity to destress and be around others who have had similar experiences, explaining, “You don’t have to know a person, once you find out they’ve served, there’s an instant bond.”
The three-day Warrior Refuge adventure was filled with great memories for Chartier, and he sees Warrior Refuge as something many military personnel would benefit from. However, it was the opportunity to talk openly about problems — something that most military personnel in leadership are hesitant to do — that meant a lot to him.
“I’m having marital problems right now and I was able to talk about what I was going through,” he admits. “I was also able to talk to David, he has specialized training in marriage counseling, and that did help. He even offered to help me beyond our time there [with Warrior Refuge].”
But Warrior Refuge isn’t exclusively for veterans — the ministry is also geared toward first responders, business leaders, ministers, and couples.
According to Giammona, veterans as well as civilians both experience warfare, whether it be physical or spiritual. Both are in ongoing fights for their emotional, marital, or even spiritual lives.
The plight of U.S. military personnel is well documented, from escalating suicide rates to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, the stresses of being a pastor or corporate leader can also be overwhelming as leaders frequently have few they can turn to express their hurts, frustrations, angers, and fears, while carrying a lion’s share of the responsibilities and ridicule.
Marriage retreats are also an option through Warrior Refuge, as the importance of strong marriages cannot be overemphasized
“We offer hunting/fishing expeditions, marriage retreats, conferences, workshops, action and adventure programs, PTSD workshops, spiritual discipleship, life coaching, leadership training, and team building,” Giammona explains. “We can host events tailored to the church’s needs here or at a location of their choosing.”
With his decades of military service, Giammona’s connections run deep. AG evangelist’s Dave Roever’s son, Matt, is on his board, which has opened the doors for Warrior Refuge to partner with Roever’s Eagle’s Summit Ranches in Texas and Colorado and other venues designed to aid veterans. His connections to ministers and military personnel around the world also simplifies finding the right people and right location for nearly any event.
“There are wounds of the world, morale injury, even physical wounds that oftentimes no one really understands except for those who have been there,” Giammona says. “That’s what makes Warrior Refuge unique. We have the professionals who’ve ‘been there’ and understand what they’ve been through — whether that be in the military, business, or ministry.”
Currently Giammona and his son, David (Micah) Giammona, are working towards attaining several hundred to 1,000 acres to establish a more permanent outdoor adventure and conference location for Warrior Refuge. “We will keep the headquarters in Georgia,” David J. Giammona says, “but we’re looking for the right piece of property to establish a world class center to help those in a fight for their lives experience peace and victory through Christ.”
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