By ZACH GEIGER
Special to the OBSERVER
SEVEN SPRINGS, Pa. - Military veteran Dewey Head does not consider himself to be a hero.
Photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Wounded warrior children Alex Kille, 15, and sister Diane Kille, 12, both of Honesdale Pa. snowboard together. They are the children of U.S. Army veteran Jim Kille.
He can tell you the story about how he was "blown up" in Iraq while serving as an Army Ranger in 2008.
Head is modest and most likely will not mention the 48 consecutive months he served during his deployment. But when asked, Head remains adamant about one thing: His injury was a "blessing" because it brought him back to his family.
The real heroes, he said, are his friends still on the ground.
Head, along with his wife and 14-year-old daughter from San Antonio, Texas, was one of seven military families spending this week at Seven Springs Mountain Resort, sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Patrol.
A U.S. Navy veteran and member of the Roundtop Ski Patrol, Wounded Warrior Patrol Vice Chairman Robert Hall insists veterans like Head are heroes and should be thanked for their service and sacrifices.
"We owe them big time," Hall said.
Head persists: It's not about his injury but about his entire family.
"My wife and my daughter are my inspiration. If they keep moving, I keep moving," he said. "It helps my mental and physical stability [having them here]."
The Wounded Warrior Patrol was created after several members of the Roundtop Mountain Resort Ski Patrol in Wellsville, Pa., participated in the Wounded Warrior Ski Week in Breckenridge, Colo. The group decided to create their own program to honor veterans, and the Wounded Warrior Patrol was started, Hall said.
It is comprised of volunteers who are members of the Roundtop Ski Patrol - many of those volunteers are also veterans, Hall said. Ski patrollers from other resorts and areas were also in attendance during the week, he said.
For the first event, Wounded Warrior Patrol selected 10 families to visit Seven Springs from Sunday to Thursday, Mark Kendrick said.
Although only seven families could be in attendance, Wounded Warrior Patrol paid for "every penny, door to door" to bring veterans to the resort, Hall said. And Seven Springs handled the rest, providing lodging, meals and a variety of activities for the veterans and their families, he said.
The opportunity to connect with other wounded veterans and their families, all while enjoying a week of skiing, has been an excellent experience, Troy and Leslie VanDerau said.
After serving in Somalia in 1995 in the 3rd Battalion 1st Marines, Troy VanDerau re-enlisted in the National Guard in 2008. He suffered a spinal cord injury while training for deployment to Iraq.
Leslie VanDerau, a combat engineer with the Marine Corps Reserve, was injured during Operation Iraqi Freedom II in 2004.
After emotionally describing her experience, the VanDeraus both agreed - they don't even need words to understand what they went through.
"It's easy to relate to other families that have been in similar situations as you," Leslie VanDerau said.
Too many people get hung up on the "wounded" aspect of the program, her husband said.
The entire family is affected from the experience, and the damage is long-term, Troy VanDerau said. Even when there are no soldiers left in the current combat zone, veterans will have to deal with the wounds for years to come, he said.
And it may not always be physical injury, but rather emotional or psychological scars that veterans face well after combat, his wife added.
"Part of you is always left where you served in a combat environment. You never get to bring that part back," Troy VanDerau said.
But the Wounded Warrior Patrol is about providing a retreat for veterans - and a chance for them to experience a fun weekend and know the country is thankful and supportive of their service, Wounded Warrior Patrol board member Ken Graff said.
An U.S. Army Reservist from Dillsburg, Pa., Graff was drafted into the Army during Vietnam but re-enlisted at age 59. Since then, he has seen five redeployments to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq as a combat surgeon.
Graff said it has been "an honor and a privilege" to continue to serving in the Army. And the goal of the Wounded Warrior Patrol is to continue doing just that: honoring the young men and women who were injured and sacrificed everything for their country.
"They deserve anything, and everything we can put together for them," he said.
While many of the warriors skied and snowboarded throughout the week, others took advantage of the resort's spa for some relaxation time. After breaking two skis, Charles "Buddy" Mays from Georgia went shooting clay pigeons with Seven Springs Mountain Resort Chairman Robert Nutting.
Paralyzed after a roadside bomb detonated while he was riding in a Humvee in September 2005 in Iraq, Mays was at the resort with his wife and two daughters, ages 9 and 10.
Despite being temporarily displaced on the ski slopes, Mays couldn't stop smiling as he blasted clay pigeon after clay pigeon from the sky, outshooting some of the other competitors.
The Wounded Warriors Patrol hopes to expand and include additional families as the event progresses, Graff said. Right now, the group will stick to the ski slopes per the original ski patrollers, but other events are in the works as the program expands, he said.
But for veterans like Head, the opportunity to enjoy some time on the slopes and meet other veterans and their families was an "amazing" experience.
"It's been awesome getting to know all of them. It's been great, the trip of a lifetime," he said.