American Legion $10,000 grant helps military families reconnect

Local first and second grade students make cards for military servicemembers that get a respite and time to reconnect with their family at Warrior Retreat at Bull Run in Haymarket, Va. With one card in particular, Shirley Dominic shared her reflection on it with Department of Virginia American Legion leadership and Haymarket Post 1799 members.

“A little first grader, she drew a picture of a warrior that was standing post at her bedside. She was laying there, asleep, and her little quote was ‘So I could sleep.’ What does that mean? Somebody is on the ground working so we as a country can sleep,” said Dominic, a U.S. Air Force veteran and co-founder and president of Willing Warriors, the nonprofit that runs the Warrior Retreat at Bull Run.

Shirley and Willing Warriors co-founder John Dominic were presented with a $10,000 American Legion Operation Comfort Warriors grant on March 23 to help continue with providing free stay for servicemembers and their families.

The American Legion “is really supporting families, warriors, loved ones, battle buddies that have been there, done that,” Shirley Dominic said. “It’s causing them to have hope for tomorrow. I just want to say from all of us thank you all for doing this.

“Thank you, Tom (Henning) for waving that flag for us always.”

This is the third $10,000 OCW grant for Warrior Retreat at Bull Run that Henning applied for and received over the last five years. These grants have provided 15 servicemembers and their families with one week of rest and recreation at the retreat.

“You’re doing wonderful things. You’re saving lives, you’re saving marriages. I think it’s fantastic what you’re doing,” Henning said to Shirley and John.

The Warriors Retreat at Bull Run opened in 2015, and its more than 60 educational and recreational activities provide a respite for wounded, ill or injured servicemembers, and their families at no cost. Henning has served as Post 1799’s liaison to the retreat since he first served as a volunteer.

Henning came to the Warrior Retreat to help with ground cleanup and a house renovation. “He started out as a volunteer, he understood the value of it, and he brought the message back to his post,” John Dominic said. “From that point, the post has been helping us with volunteers and donations.”

John Dominic said the retreat didn’t get to host several of their main fundraisers in 2020 because of COVID-19. So the OCW grant “is very important to us.”

The greeting sign entering Warrior Retreat at Bull Run says, “Home Away From Home.” John Dominic said it is the volunteers and staff who make the place feel like home.

“I can’t say enough about our staff and all of our volunteers here that work. They do such an amazing job at making the warriors who come here feel at home and letting them know that this is their home for the week. Just enjoy it with their families. And it’s worked.”

Army veteran Zachary Herrick stayed at the Warrior Retreat with his wife and two young children. “This is what we needed to get outside, to get away from the stress,” Herrick said during the OCW presentation. “This is exactly what our family needed. I can’t stress that enough. It felt like home.”

On June 25, 2011, Herrick was shot in the face while serving in Afghanistan. During his recovery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, art became his rehabilitation therapy. He is the founder of American Heroes HeART, a form of art called Explosive Art or Infantry Art created with paint cannons. Like his art, Herrick said the Warrior Retreat was a safe place for him and his family.

“When we came here it was a very humbling experience because it’s very quiet and you’re in your thoughts, and you’re with the other person who you love, and it was a time that we got to reconnect and actually enjoy not only this place but each other in a way that we couldn’t really connect outside or even at home. It really helped sew our marriage back tighter. It was a family cohesive feel as we left.”

The Warrior Retreat at Bull Run is located on 37 acres in the scenic foothills of Bull Run Mountains. John Dominic said the moment veterans “get out of the car and see the surrounding area they start to relax. Then when they meet our volunteers and our staff who really care a lot about them and want to do something for them, they start to decompress. They start to open to their families to whom a lot of times they don’t even have dialogue with. They are so isolated and so withdrawn; we see emotional defenses just drop. They start to breathe again if you would. And relax. That’s the thing that we are looking for all the time.

“Thank you (to The American Legion) for your support over the years,” John Dominic said. “We really appreciate it. I know the warriors appreciate it so much too.”