Monday, March 31, 2014

Dmitry's "Solo Ride" of a Lifetime

rideSolo and the TransAmerican Trail

Dmitry Solominsky is amongst the one percent of Americans to join the military. Now a veteran, he served with the National Guard out of New York City as a member of the 69th Infantry Regiment during Operation Iraqi Freedom III. Dmitry now hopes to advocate for his fellow service members and veterans as a civilian. This spring, he will embark on a cross-country trip via the TransAmerican Trail to raise awareness of PTSD in veterans and the impact on the entire family. Utilizing only the bare essentials, Dmitry will ride on a mid-1980s Lotus Éclair he bought with a friend for $100 on Craigslist. Dmitry will begin his ride early in Seattle, Washington, on April 1, 2014, traveling south until he hits the official cycling route, which spans from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia. A current resident of New York City, Dmitry is calling his journey rideSolo.

Dmitry estimates rideSolo will take between 8-11 weeks, averaging 60-70 miles a day. He is camping along the way and staying with supporters of the cycling, firefighter, and military communities. According to him, the best training he’s had for the trip is his daily employment as a freelance handyman, which requires him to walk, run, and climb stairs while carrying a heavy backpack. He expects his body to get used to the ride after a couple weeks, but will rest every seventh day of his trip. He will carry a basic repair kit to do his own repairs, and a cell phone with solar charger. He is currently testing a GPS tracker in hopes that friends and supporters can track rideSolo.

A History of Service and Scope

Dmitry signed up for the National Guard his senior year of high school, right after 9/11. At 17 he chose the Military Occupation Specialty, having the highest bonus at the time, which turned out to be Infantry. His unit had a rough tour, losing 19 brothers-in-arms over the course of their deployment. Dmitry understands he grew up quickly.

“It is indescribable how losing that many people continues to impact me today. I saw and did things that many young people who are not in the military will never experience nor understand.”

After eight years of service, Dmitry transitioned out of the military. Admittedly, he misses “the structure and the mission” of the military. His passion for it inspired him to give back in a unique way. As he pedals across the United States, Dmitry will be meeting with different people and raising funds for Hope For The Warriors®.

“Thanks to Hope For The Warriors®, I intend to raise this platform to a national level and give [PTSD] the attention it deserves,” he says.

Bringing PTSD to Light

The purpose of rideSolo is to bring attention to the daily struggles of those living with PTSD. Understanding firsthand the trauma of PTSD, Dmitry wishes to convey how lifestyles we often take for granted are filled with challenges for those suffering from it.

“PTSD is a vicious condition, taking many of the best that made it back,” says Dmitry. “The difficulty of dealing with loss on a potentially daily basis as well as the sights, sounds, and smells of war, these are the things that afflict the minds of veterans.”

Dmitry chooses to ride on his own across America to represent the many PTSD sufferers who feel like they are alone in their battle. Dmitry, however, understands he has support from his military community, including Hope For The Warriors®. We wish him well on his adventure and thank him for his commitment to further insight into those living with PTSD.

For more information on Dmitry and rideSolo, please visit his official page at

Thursday, March 27, 2014

#tbt Marine Corps Marathon

We have many fond memories of the Marine Corps Marathon and on Throwback Thursday, we are excited to share those memories and the amazing road for one marathoner.

Zach Briseño is a native of Fort Worth and joined the Marine Corps in 2004, just after his high school graduation. In 2007, after serving in Okinawa and Fallujah, Iraq, Zach returned to Fallujah as part of a police training team. On November 29, 2007, an IED detonated under the vehicle of his and two other Marines, resulting in the loss of both legs and an injury to his arm. 

While still in recovery, Zach joined Team Hope For The Warriors® and completed the 2008 Marine Corps Marathon on his new handcycle. The last leg of the race route was uphill, so for Zach the finish line could very well have been out of reach. Exhaustion and doubt, however, were no match for his determination. Zach made it up the hill--not by handcycle, but by standing up to walk his uphill battle. The crowd was stunned by the grueling scene of what seemed impossible to someone who was severely injured less than a year prior to the race. For Zach, this was one of many examples of his tenacity and endurance.

Since then, Zach has exemplified the warrior spirit by taking full advantage of these amazing opportunities. After he completed the marathon in 2008, Zach returned with three other Marines in 2009 to guide a blind and double amputee through the Marine Corps Marathon. (Amazing photo above.)

On March 20, Hope For The Warriors® honored Zach with a Hope & Courage Award at our first Got Heart, Give Hope® Celebration in Dallas. His extraordinary attitude leads him and his family to build on new experiences and passions. Zach's top priority is caring for his eight-year-old son, Elijah. He is also newly married just this month. He competes on the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team nationwide and coaches his son’s baseball team. Zach's life is an inspiration to how the human spirit can excel and discover limitless capabilities. 

This is one of many inspiring stories of the Team in the Marine Corps Marathon. You, too, can be part of the Marine Corps Marathon by joining Team Hope For The Warriors®.  Learn more by visiting our Team page.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Women Veterans Initiative Retreats to Vermont

March is Women’s History Month and Hope For The Warriors® honored our women warriors with a four-day Winter Retreat in Woodstock, Vermont.  Participants of the retreat braved skiing and snowboarding at Killington Mountain, were pampered at a local spa and enjoyed team-building activities such as art therapy, cooking, an exploration walk, and thoughtful group discussions.  A diverse group of eight post-9/11 women veterans and reservists from all over the country attended the retreat.  These women represented different military branches, units, ranks, and deployment histories.  Despite their differences, unifying experiences connected them instantly – a few women even discovered that they were deployed to the same location in Iraq at the same time!  Also on the retreat were three Hope For The Warriors® staff (including one woman veteran peer mentor) and a Marine Corps veteran and her partner, who generously donated the use of their home for this group adventure.

It was the first time stepping in ski boots for nearly all of the women veterans and it proved to be an exciting, fun, and challenging experience.  The women’s qualities of strength, perseverance, and mutual support were evident throughout the day on the mountain.  They challenged themselves and overcame fears through collaborative efforts and encouragement of one another.  This solidarity and support were not only apparent in the challenge of conquering the mountain, but also in the way the women, who began the trip as strangers, developed genuine bonds with each other throughout the weekend.  They opened up to one another about military experiences, both positive and negative, and found they could relate in meaningful ways.  Some women shared challenges that still feel raw and open, some shared experiences and feelings that they had kept to themselves for years.  Those who had experienced similar events provided validation, understanding, and empowerment.   The women walked away from these discussions with a newfound sense of hope and healing through the power of the group.  SFC Angela Green, US Army Reserve, shared the following about her experience on the retreat:

“[I valued] meeting new and wonderful people. Women from all branches, all backgrounds and all over the US came together as if we already knew one another.  [Being with the other women veterans was] relatable and empowering.  It allowed women to be women, to be themselves... There's just so much that can't be explained and understood by male veterans. Women are challenged (not always in a good way) daily in the Military. We explore events and start discussions that often stir up arguments, denial, disbelief, complete ignorance and or name calling.  In life sometimes you need validation... Meeting ladies who have been there, been through similar experiences… [Sharing] what they are doing now helps to put things in perspective. Life is far from perfect but it's a blessing to know you have support, one that doesn't [involve] medication or a counselor.  I will remember to stay strong and carry my head high... I have a lot to be thankful and happy about. I will not let life's disappointments or the unknown overtake me.”

Hope For The Warriors® first women veterans retreat proved to be an exceptional experience.  By focusing on team-building adventures, honoring strengths, and exploring shared experiences, this retreat created an opportunity for women veterans to connect as a community and grow both as individuals and a group.  

For Hope For The Warriors®, honoring our women veterans does not stop after Women’s History Month.  In fact, our Women Veterans Initiative continues to put on monthly events for our women warriors, including local activities, community service opportunities, professional development events, and future retreats.  Next month, Hope For The Warriors® Women Veterans Initiative will again have a team for New York Cares Day Spring!  For more information or to sign up for programming, please contact Andrea Cilento at

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sports & Recreation Program: CrossFit

Hope For The Warriors® recognizes that pursuing athletic goals and sports is a key component of the physical and psychological recovery for service members and the military families.  Program work includes the reintroduction of a loved sport or hobby, or the opportunity to gain new skills with the use of adaptive equipment.  Through sports and recreation, Hope For The Warriors® builds a community that embraces the warrior athlete, supporting their rehabilitation and mental health.
How does Hope For The Warriors® help warriors pursue these athletic goals?  Countless ways.  Through our Team Hope For The Warriors® and Run For The Warriors® events, warrior athletes compete across the country on foot and on handcycle.  Through our sailing clinics, veterans are introduced to a new, therapeutic sport.  Through Outdoor Adventures programming, veterans and their families reengage with the great outdoors by hunting or fishing.

And new in 2014, CrossFit!
CrossFit Merrifield, a new training facility in Fairfax, VA, has partnered with Hope For The Warriors®, to provide CrossFit training and coaching to a few service members and veterans in their area.  One of the owners, Thomas Tomlo is a retired Marine and avid supporter to our service members and Hope For The Warriors®.  He believes strongly that regardless of ability or injury, each veteran will have the opportunity to participate in a full range of programs and classes offered at the gym. 

“Developing a strong, empowering community is what we are committed to here.  Building a foundation of strength both physical and through our community is the blueprint to our mission.  The opportunity to serve our heroes and build this team with them is an honor.”
Hope For The Warriors® has identified a few service members/veterans in the area who would benefit from both the physical fitness as well as strong fitness community at CrossFit Merrifield.  If you are a service member or Post-9/11 Veteran in the area and would like to be considered, contact SteveBartomioli, Team Hope For The Warriors® Director.

Grand Opening
Or to visit the gym and meet members of the Team, come out to the CrossFit Merrifield location on Friday, March 14, 2014 at 6:30 PM.  The evening will include guest speakers, food, and plenty of time to socialize, and tour the facilities.  Members of Hope For The Warriors® staff, Team Hope For The Warriors®, service members, and Veterans will attend.  This will be a fun night and we hope that you can join us! For more details, visit our event page on Facebook.

Learn more about Hope For The Warriors®

Learn more about CrossFit Merrifield

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March is National Social Work Month

Photo provided courtesy of Paul Oberle
March is National Social Work Month.  Hope For The Warriors® has licensed social workers on our staff, staff members working towards earning their licensing as well as a national internship program that works with multiple universities.  The depth of our clinical care work would not be possible without the expertise and dedication of these staff members.  We are very grateful for the commitment they make to our service members.  Today’s blog is written by Chrystal Thompson, a staff member that recently graduated with her Master in Social Work.

Hope, Courage & Leadership

This year’s theme for the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Conference is Hope, Courage & Leadership.  In my opinion, this theme is quite fitting for the future of our country.

At this year’s Bush Institute’s Empowering Our Nation’s Warriors Summit in Dallas, President George W. Bush addressed a coalition of military service providers from across the country.  The President painted the picture of the post-9/11 population, explaining that the post-9/11 veterans make up the “one percent of America who kept the ninety-nine percent safe." (Article)

This is the 1% of the population that left their families to deploy to the deserts in Iraq and the mountains in Afghanistan.  Some grew up wanting to serve their country; others joined the service as a way to provide for their family.  Some joined before they were legally able to vote for the leaders of their county.  Officer or enlisted, mechanics or infantry, pilots or military police, each served with a purpose greater than self- to defend our freedoms and to protect our homeland.   
Hope, courage, and leadership; three terms that describe 1% of America.   According to President Bush’s speech, more than one million Americans will complete their military service within the next five years, facing the hardships adjusting to the civilian lifestyle.  This transition is not commonly understood by the American public, or rather the civilians.
Statistics show that post-9/11 veterans experience higher rates of unemployment compared to their civilian counterparts.  Post-9/11 veterans experience difficulty fitting into the university systems and drop-out rates are not declining.  This is the 1% that never did their job with the expectation of getting news media worthy recognition.  Today, they simply ask for acknowledgement of their leadership experiences and skill set that they fulfilled in a set timeframe and binding contract with their employer: the U.S. government.  This is commonly overlooked in the education and employment spheres, in the same homeland where these men and women laced up their boots each day to protect.    

The 99% of Americans are needed even more today than they were during the height of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Physicians, both mental health and medical health providers, are needed to care for the wounds of our veterans. Professionals in all industries are needed to offer guidance and mentorship for our veterans that are deciphering which path to take in the civilian sector.  Professors need to have a competency for today’s veteran students.  Businesses need to consider the training and skill set and assess which position in the company can benefit most from the strengths brought forth by the prospective veteran employee.  City and community organizers need to understand that veterans are transitioning from base housing and into the community, bringing with them their children and spouse. Leaders of our country need to prepare for the face of the new decade instilling hope, courage, and leadership in one hundred percent of the American population.

Learn more about Hope For The Warriors® programs

Monday, March 3, 2014

Staff Development Conference

Hope For The Warriors® had a rare opportunity to join together for a Staff Development Conference in Arlington, VA last week.  We titled the conference "Hope For The Future" and throughout the week, Hope staff worked together to focus on the future of our organization and on the program work that we want to accomplish and need to accomplish to fully assist today's military families. 

It was a wonderful week!

We need to thank a huge number of people and companies who made this conference possible.  They include:

Our lodging that was either free or discounted
My Suite Solutions
DoubleTree by Hilton

Fantastic presenters
Nessa Kiely, The Kiely Company
Dan Shyti, 4 Power Leadership

Motivating Workouts
CrossFit Merrifield
Denise Olsen, Strong and Soutful Yoga

Where were you eight years ago and where do you think you will be eight years from now?

We are not the same organization today as we were when we were founded in 2006.  Chances are, we will not be the same organization eight years from now either.  Together, we are ready to grow and shift as the challenges of our families also grow and shift. 

Learn more about Hope For The Warriors®

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