An alarming statistic — 600 United States veterans commit suicide every month — inspired a Lewis County man to help.
U.S. Army veteran Landon Bentley founded Warrior Ridge with three friends six months ago, after Bentley hosted a getaway for soldiers he served with in Iraq 15 years ago at his grandfather’s farm.
“It was one of the best feelings,” he said of being back together. “I thought other friends would like to see their old buddies, too.”
The experience led to the creation of Warrior Ridge, a nonprofit run by Bentley and friend Ryan Roe, his wife Morgan Roe and Jessi Meyburn. “We are all volunteer. Not one penny goes to pay anyone,” Bentley said.
Veterans are nominated on the website for a trip to the area, where participants can enjoy kayaking, horseback riding, hiking and fishing with soldiers with whom they served. Travel, lodging and meals are paid for. Bentley said he believes it’s a unique offering.
“I haven’t found anybody in the nation doing anything close to this,” he said. “There are lots of nonprofits but no activities with people you know, people you walked the streets of war together.”
Events take place on the Roe’s farm, where there is a cabin and a pond. Roe, the son and nephew of Vietnam Veterans, is an accomplished horseman and outdoorsman who has run his farrier business for 13 years.
The first group of veterans to enjoy Warrior Ridge activities was from the 101st Airborne from Fort Campbell. Bentley said they were among the forces that invaded Iraq in 2003 when Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay were killed.
“They never stopped talking. They were so excited,” Bentley said. “It’s really neat to see.”
He said he believes putting veterans back together with support systems they had in the military works to improve the mental health of veterans.
“People just don’t talk about it. It’s not a popular topic,” he said of mental health in general and that of veterans specifically.
He said he hopes to add a chow hall and barracks and to offer guided kayak tours. An even bigger goal for the organization: to have one in every state.
“When they get back together, they will rebuilt the support system they one had,” Bentley said. “It might be on a smaller scale right now, but I truly believe it will save lives.”
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