Vail Veterans Program welcomes dozens of military families to their summer program |

Vail Veterans Program welcomes dozens of military families to their summer program

The Vail Veterans Program’s first summer group was in town last week, giving injured military veterans and their families a chance to enjoy the outdoors together.
Daniel Milchev | Vail Veterans Program. |

About the Vail Veterans Program

• The Vail Veterans Program provides rehabilitative sports programs to United States military personnel who have been severely injured while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the troops that support those efforts.

• The program is open to wounded warriors and their families, building confidence and hope through skiing, snowboarding and outdoor summer recreational activities.

• The Vail Veterans Program is a volunteer organization and hosts wounded military members and their families free of charge.

• Send donations or contact them at: P.O. Box 6473, Vail, Colorado 81658; 970-476-4906; email:

VAIL — Vail Veterans Program guests come from different geographic locations, but many from the same sort of place.

Elliott Miller cannot speak, but he can laugh and he did when he rolled his four-wheeled mountain bike. Rolled it twice, which made him laugh twice as much.

“It lights him up, and it makes me happy to see him so happy,” April said.

Go out and play

Walk into the Vail Chophouse where a couple dozen military families were enjoying dinner, and you hear the laughter, and you smile, because they’re smiling.

People with the Vail Veterans Program are not among your Great Indoorsmen. They go outside to run and jump and play.

Anthony Parcia looks like someone stuffed a V-shaped leather sack with cannon balls in all the right places. He smiles and laughs. He’s with family.

“I can feel normal and social,” Anthony said. “I appreciate being here. It feels like family. They understand.”

Anthony heard about the Vail Veterans Program about three weeks ago when his recreational therapist mentioned it.

He has been medically retired for two years after he was hit in Afghanistan.

Anthony was the only corpsman for an 87-member Marine Engineering Battalion Task Force, a fancy name for roadside-bomb hunters.

“When you go hunting for IEDs you usually find them,” Parcia said.

One found him, and the Navy sent the second-generation corpsman home to try to heal, as in, “Physician, heal thyself.”

“I’m a corpsman. We fix other people,” he said.

His wife Lisa says opportunities such as the Vail Veterans Program helped save Anthony, and them.

Healing waters

Hai Ngyen didn’t really want to be in the paper, but then we asked him to say something nice about the Vail Veterans Program. He grinned and talked for about 10 minutes.

He has been on veterans trips to other places, but none are as relaxing.

The activities are packed too tight.

Ngyen spent three days fly fishing, and says he hasn’t felt this relaxed in a long, long time.

“It’s a feeling I get when I’m in the water,” he said.

Love, Lightning strikes twice

Heroes aren’t the only ones who need the healing that the Vail Veterans Program provides. It’s tough for families to get away.

Robert Louder is originally from Utah, and came to Vail from a medical military facility in San Antonio with his wife Rebekah, their son Gavin, daughter Sydney and a toddler who may be one of the most adorable humans to ever draw breath on God’s green Earth.

The family went up Vail Mountain while Robert stayed down doing something wonderful.

“We’d been up there all day. It’s beautiful,” Rebekah said.

He later joined them at the top just in time to watch an afternoon thunderstorm roll in. The gondola closed and they passed the time with many other people, most not as happy to be there as they were.

The Louder clan passed the three hours and 45 minutes in ways that may be considered revolutionary in these digital days.

“We talked to each other and other families,” Robert said smiling.

This summer, Vail Veterans Program was their first trip to Vail.

“It’s amazing for families,” Rebekah said. “Even getting stuck on top of the mountain was an adventure.”

You’re family now

Ferris Butler’s first trip was 2009 from Walter Reed. It was so impactful he and his wife moved here six months ago to be an ambassador for the program.

“That’s how powerful this trip was,” Butler said.

Many programs do not include families and caregivers. This one does.

Cheryl Jensen founded the Vail Veterans Program in 2004 with a dozen or so guys. She figured it was a one-time deal. It wasn’t. Now, 12 years and more than 1,000 people later, she’s on a first-name basis with some of the Joint Chiefs.

“You’re forever part of our community and the Vail Veterans Program family,” Jensen told the group during dinner at the Vail Chophouse.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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