Heroes by the hundred: Vail Veterans Program turns 15 as it hosts its 2019 summer family session
We all adapt to life, some more than others.
The Vail Veterans Program’s summer family session was in town this past week, with dozens of families doing all the stuff families do during a Vail vacation.
15 years young
The Vail Veterans Program is 15 years old and has hosted thousands of wounded veterans and their families.
Lions Square Lodge was alive this past week with the sounds of children laughing and playing, adults occasionally warning them of possible danger, or sometimes letting them learn the lessons it can teach.
Among those lessons: cowboy boots and Stetson hats fit nicely over prosthetics.
As author Tom Robbins wrote: “Lives in progress. A thing to behold.”
“It’s important that they see other families in similar situations,” Jason Hallett, a visiting veteran, said while his twins — a boy and girl 3 years old — scrambled straight up a rock face, learning to climb.
“They love adrenaline, like me,” Hallett said
Hallett was hit in Afghanistan — his Alive Day, the day he was wounded and didn’t die. He was with his unit in Afghanistan, going through a compound that they were told contained high-value targets. Hallett and his unit were checking out some sheds and Hallett warned his buddies to avoid wires hanging from a doorway they had not seen because they might trigger a booby trap.
Moments later, on their way out of the sheds, he stepped on a homemade bomb. The pain was searing and his screams sounded like they were coming from someone else far away. He was airlifted to medical help, and so began his long, painful road back. Hallett is a triple amputee — two legs and one arm. He’s left with just three fingers on his left hand. He doggedly set about healing and recovery.
Hallett learned to adapt, and so are his children. When he gets them from their cribs in the morning, he hangs an arm over the railing and they scramble over him to the floor. That may change. He’s part of an experimental osseointegration program. Doctors screwed titanium bolts into his femurs and arm. They hope to attach prosthetics to those bolts to improve his mobility.
In the meantime, like all these veterans and their families, he has adapted to life. Hallett got married, had children, got unmarried, learned economics and is now a financial advisor.
Indoor tag and other adventures
Sgt. Richard “Tony” Doyle is medically retired from the Army after his armor-plated Humvee rolled over a roadside bomb in August 2005. He remembers regaining consciousness and the tanks rolling up to secure the area. He remembers the doctor showing up and working on him. He and now-wife Melissa were engaged. It was 10:30 p.m. when she got the call. The officer who broke the news was as kind and compassionate as possible, she said. It was a long night, the beginning of a long life together.
They got married. Their son Cayden Doyle is now 8 years old and spent the last week laughing and playing with other Vail Veterans Program kids — rafting, climbing, bull riding, playing in the pool with an enormous inflatable American eagle.
Laughing and playing is how the Doyles spend much of their days. Cayden’s proud parents say their son is more adept at problem-solving than most kids his age. They were on a cruise ship and Cayden won at Bingo. He put that money together with money he earned from working to buy his own Playstation.
“He has developed a different way of figuring things out. It makes him a more independent thinker,” Tony Doyle said.
Tony and Cayden created an indoor version of tag. Melissa smiles slightly as she describes the incredible racket they make.
Melissa was at the Vail Veterans Program caregivers retreat, and then the reunion.
“It’s important to keep learning,” Melissa said. “It re-energizes you and helps you understand how important it is to mentor those coming into the program.”
Speaking of adapting, Tony’s email address is “oneleg,” which he has had since 2005 when he left the hospital in a wheelchair and one leg.
The Doyles’ first trip to Vail was January 2009 for the winter family session. They live in Texas, so snow was an adventure all by itself.
“When we decided to go we had no idea what to expect. This was all new,” Melissa Doyle said.
“We soon learned that we didn’t know what would happen, but the Vail Veterans Program is so good that no matter what it is, it’ll be fantastic.”
Since MIRA launched on July 29, 2018, it has recorded 140 days of operation. A total of 2,812 people have received services or been connected to other resources through MIRA as it visited 40 neighborhoods in Eagle County.