Operation Restored Warrior helps heal combat veterans from the inside out
EAGLE COUNTY — Rob Sperberg was a young Marine when his country called on him to fight in Vietnam. He got shot at a lot.
His service finished, he left Vietnam and the Marines and came home.
“In those days, we knew PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) existed but no one knew what it was, what to call it or how to treat it. We were told to suck it up,” Sperberg said. “You cannot believe the turmoil that you stuff down.”
Operation Restored Warrior changed him to his very soul, he said.
“You’ll look at everything differently,” Sperberg said.
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What it is
Operation Restored Warrior is a local faith-based program that strives to heal combat veterans from the inside out. It’s unabashedly Christian.
“It’s based on the biblical teachings of Jesus, that God is in us and wants to heal us,” said John Guandolo said, citing Isaiah 61.
Guandolo is the organization’s executive director and also a program alumni.
Operation Restored Warrior is open to all faiths, including those who profess to have no religious faith. The cornerstone is a five-day program at 4 Eagle Ranch called the Drop Zone.
It’s successful, and measure it like this:
According to the Veterans Administration, 22 combat veterans and one active duty soldier kill themselves every day because they feel like they’re unable to cope with life.
Of the hundreds of people who’ve been through their program, none have committed suicide, Guandolo said.
“The practical outcome is that it works,” Guandolo said. “Government is spending more and more on programs that demonstrably do not work. This demonstrably, does.”
Men volunteer for the program and come to 4 Eagle Ranch from all across the nation. There’s no other way, Guandolo said.
“Men need to ask. They need to get to a place that they understand they need to make a change,” Guandolo said.
When it works, it works miracles, Guandolo said.
“We’ve had several hundred wives tell us it’s awesome and how much it has helped their families,” Guandolo said.
Guandolo went through it in 2009. It’s a skill, as well as a calling, he said.
“It’s like anything else. You have to walk in it to get good at it,” he said. “Then you have to learn to get out of the way and learn to let God do what God does, heal the wounded heart.”
Healing began with Barry
Founder Michael Barry says he was a Christian-hating atheist for much of his adult life. In 2003, he ended up at a Ransomed Hearts Ministries weekend with John Eldridge in Buena Vista. It changed his heart and his life, he says.
Not long afterward he started Operation Restored Warrior on a wing and a prayer. These days, Barry’s 4 Eagle Foundation pays most of the freight.
“I saw the pain these guys were walking in and the price they paid for my freedom. It hit them right in the heart,” Barry said.
He went through a five-day Drop Zone session and says it helped change his life. Of the five men he was with, four had put a gun in their mouth and applied four pounds of pressure on a five-pound trigger.
“They say, ‘I’m such a wimp. I couldn’t even blow my own head off.’ Now they’re reveling in being a dad,” Barry said.
It’s not just veterans returning from the Middle East. Some are casting aside the baggage that followed them home from Vietnam 40 years ago, Barry said.
“These guys are tough. But then they come back from war and try to be husbands and fathers,” Barry said.
They’re not equipped for that, he said, but they can be.
“I describe it as warriors being set free in the name of Jesus,” Barry said. “I think of Jesus’ mission statement, ‘I came to set the captives free.’”
Around 500 men have gone through the program. Fifty returned to 4 Eagle Ranch for an alumni weekend in late October.
A high price to pay
Tom Walker has been around the valley since 1979 when he rolled into town to be the chef at the Marriott.
During the past five or six years, he became involved with faith-based organizations like Operation Restored Warrior, which he says goes to the heart of their mission.
“What medicine and therapy reveals, God heals,” Walker said. “Some wounds are visible, some are beneath the surface. The big wounds are inside.”
Chris Fields is a retired sergeant major who was serving in the Middle East when the soldier next to him was vaporized from the waist up. Some things you never forget, but you need to find a way to live with them.
“They’re trained to take life. When it comes to living life it’s a whole different ball game,” Walker said.
“We warriors have a tendency not to deal with things that are painful emotionally,” said Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, U. S. Army, retired. “Operation Restored Warrior forced me to deal with issues I had suppressed for a very long time – issues I carried deep inside that I couldn’t share with my wife or with any of my friends.”
That’s the high price these people paid for America’s freedom, Barry said.
“It’s an incredible honor to be able to give back to these guys after all they’ve done,” Barry said.