“It’s vets helping vets,” said former U.S. Marine Sgt. Jim Lafferty of Millsboro. That’s how he describes the unique concept for the Warrior Weekend Program in Delaware.
It all started in 2006 when retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Ydovich of Newark visited veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He saw veterans with little to do on weekends and came up with the idea of taking them and their spouses on sightseeing trips for a change of scenery.
American Legion Post 28 of Oak Orchard/Riverdale took over the program once it got started. They, with 6,000 members (including spouses and Sons of the American Legion) had more resources and people power to carry out this mission.
Lafferty now serves as one of the members for this volunteer effort, along with a small band of other Post 28 volunteers.
Walter Reed Hospital is no longer in service. The facility was moved to a new Walter Reed Wing at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. Lafferty and the other Post 28 volunteers now take veterans and spouses from Fort Belvoir in Virginia on weekend trips. “It’s an old military installation,” said Lafferty. “They’ve rebuilt it and it’s gorgeous. The hospital is good.”
After initially setting up the program at Walter Reed Hospital before it closed, American Legion Post 28 vets such as Lafferty were able to transfer papers. They also identified an events officer who would be working with them at the new location.
Injured veterans who want to participate in the program complete an application form. The average age of the veterans served is in the early 30s. Most were injured in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Lafferty said, “We can take 10 vets and their spouses or other family members in our 15-passenger van, donated by the Mumford and Miller Concrete Company in Middletown. They also gave us a trailer we can use for luggage, strollers, wheelchairs, and walkers.”
So far, 470 veterans and families have been taken on 49 Warrior Weekend Program trips. The trips started in 2007. “We don’t go for huge numbers,” Lafferty said. “We want to be small and personal.
“We go on weekend trips locally such as to Rehoboth Beach, the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and the Hudson Valley in Kingston, N.Y., near West Point,” said Lafferty. “On one Philadelphia trip, we saw an Eagles football game with the Redskins.”
“We stay at four-star hotels,” said Lafferty. “If the Marriott Hotels have space, we get the rooms free. We also take the veterans and spouses to four-star restaurants where they can get anything on the menu. They and their loved ones can also do sightseeing, use jet skis, go fishing, crabbing, shopping, bond with their family, whatever,”
The trips are not made in the winter months because of the uncertainty of the weather, and the volunteers plan their trips during this time.
This past October, the veterans were taken to Kingston by train. The trip started at Fort Belvoir, and the veterans were taken to Washington, D.C., by van. “We joined them there,” said Lafferty. They all boarded a train to get them to Kingston.
“At Grand Central Station in New York City, Amtrak police boarded the train and escorted the group to a connecting train with reserved seating,” said Lafferty. “Next, a VFW and riding club motorcycle group escorted them, along with state and local police and county sheriffs, who took the group to the other side of the Hudson River.”
The trip didn’t stop there. In Kingston, people were there with flags. A big limousine met them to take them to their hotel. ”One wife was so touched, she cried,” said Lafferty.
Post 28 does other things to honor veterans. For example, they knew that one young couple in one of their sightseeing groups was expecting a baby. The couple was far away from their Midwest home and families. “We loaded a van with gifts and gave them a baby shower,” said Lafferty. “Both the veteran and his wife were so touched, they cried. We told them we were doing it for our country to show our appreciation.”
The Warrior Weekend Program is self-sustaining. It operates on donations from the public, other veterans groups, corporations and other sources. Go to www.warriorweekend.com for more information or to contribute, or make out a check to Warrior Weekend Program and send it to: 31768 Legion Road, Millsboro, DE 19966, Attn: Jim Lafferty. For questions, call him at 302-354-3362.
The Warrior Weekend Program is not associated with the Wounded Warrior Project or the Warrior Foundation. There is no executive board or paid staff. All of the work is by volunteers. Every dollar received goes to the Warrior Weekend Program.