CAROLINE COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — A spacious property in the middle of the state is dedicated to healing our heroes. Warriors Heart opened their new facility Sept. 11 in Caroline County. It’s the first of its kind in Virginia.
It’s a 42-day treatment program for veterans, active duty military members and first responders struggling with addiction.
“I was lost (and) I didn’t feel worthy, so I started drinking,” said retired Green Beret Shane St. John. “The alcohol became my best friend, and my only friend, so I isolated myself for a long time.”
St. John said two days after his final suicide attempt last October, he was on a plane, headed for Texas.
“That battle within, for me, was the biggest battle of my life,” St. John said. “I’d much rather be in a gun fight or in a fistfight than face my demons within.”
He’d gone through treatment programs before, but nothing like Warriors Heart.
“You walk in and everybody was like ‘welcome home, welcome home, welcome home’ and I was like whatever, this is bull crap but after awhile you realize that you are home,” St. John said.
Shane is one of more than 2,500 Warriors Heart Alumni. He’s part of an elite warrior class made up of retired and active duty law enforcement, military members and veterans recovering from addiction.
“It’s not your typical rehab center,” said founder and CEO Josh Lannon. “It’s not a hospital. It’s a very home-like environment.”
Modeled after their first facility in Banderra, Texas is the next home of Warrior’s Heart. It’s a 60-bed facility sitting on 550 acres in the middle of Caroline County with a serene lake that horseshoes the property. Eight warriors are already moving in this week.
“Some come in with bags of stuff, others just the shirt on their backs,” Lannon said.
Lannon says the property was already here, they just had to bring it back to life and turn it into a place where warriors can feel comfortable on their healing journey.
“Typical rehab is 28 days, 28 days for what we are dealing with with not only substance abuse but the underlying PTSD, depression, survivor’s guilt, its going to take much longer than four weeks, so that’s why we have a minimum of 42 days,” Lannon said.
Warriors Healing Warriors, that’s how this mission came to be. Lannon and his wife lived in Vegas, she was a cop and he worked in nightclubs.
“The joke was I’d get ’em drunk, she’d book ’em in jail, so when I got sober, I was like I can’t do this anymore, I can’t get people drunk for a living, so I came to the other side and I’m helping guys and gals get sober,” Lannon said.
Helping them get sober through different programs like art therapy, wood shop and metal shop.
“A lot of these men and women, they just haven’t been in a space to create in so long and now they’re sober and were opening their minds up and they say oh my goodness I want to draw, I want to create something with my hands,” said Warriors Heart Virginia Executive Director Mike Marotta.
“They just haven’t been trained on how to live life on life’s terms without alcohol and drugs so that’s what this is, it’s a training course,” Lannon said.
There’s a training course with a mess hall where they’ll be able to share meals with other warriors. They can also fish outside in the beautiful scenery, work out in a state of the art gym and face their demons.
“Post-traumatic stress looks like everybody, it doesn’t have a face. It doesn’t look out of control. It looks like our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our cousins.”
Warriors can even go home with an emotional support dog to help with their healing journey beyond. In Texas they’ve rescued and placed more than 350 dogs from local shelters. They want to do that here too.
“Kind of like our warriors here, they just need a second shot,” Lannon said.
They can also experience the outdoors on different hiking trails or by sitting around the fire.
“I think its an unconventional healing space where our warriors are going to naturally gravitate to,” Marotta said, “probably work through and process things.”
“I can see a couple warriors sitting by the fireside, one might’ve just gotten his divorce papers, the other is comforting him with his hand on his shoulder,” St. John said. “There’s gonna be a lot of healing done here.”
Marotta, a retired Air Force veteran and San Antonio police pfficer, took some of his brothers and sisters in blue through the doors of their Banderra facility.
“Post-traumatic stress looks like everybody,” Marotta said. “It doesn’t have a face, it doesn’t look out of control. It looks like our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our cousins. To see them come out bright-eyed and with a new perspective on life, it healed me, every single time, I took something from it.”
Years in the making as part of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Right Help, Right Now behavioral health plan comes this facility.
“For me we know Banderra works, it’s brought healing to over 2,500 warriors,” Marotta said, “but now we need to do a second and a second says we did it.”
Opening on Sept. 11, a day that will forever live in infamy.
“I remember I was working, I remember the weather, I remember what it felt like,” Marotta said, “so to be here 22 years later opening up a healing facility, that’s going to bring healing to the warriors, maybe even some folks that went through that in 2001.”
“If they come home, we can truly bring them home when they’re not stuck overseas in the war in their minds,” Lannon said. “A lot of them didn’t make it back mentally, so this is a way that we can bring our warriors home once and for all.”
Working to help heroes, just like St. John, come back home.
“You are part of this family the day that you show up here,” St. John said. “I owe this organization my life. I truly believe I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for my children and Warriors Heart.”
Warriors Heart is still working to fill several open positions at their Virginia facility. If you are interested in working for them, or hearing more about their treatment program, click here.