Wings of Valor pro­gram helps vet­er­ans

Serve Daily - - FRONT PAGE - By Pa­tri­cia Amadon

It is the vi­sion­ar­ies in this world that make a dif­fer­ence. Patti Richards, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Great Basin Wildlife Res­cue, a lo­cal non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, has ded­i­cated her life to re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing in­jured birds and vet­er­ans of war. It was Richards’ suc­cess in the care of in­jured birds that gave her the in­spi­ra­tion to pair wild birds with dis­abled vet­er­ans.

Richards’ sen­si­tiv­ity to the chal­lenges faced by men and women serv­ing in the mil­i­tary be­gan at an early age when her fa­ther re­turned home from World War II. Later in life, her work at the state De­part­ment of Work­force Ser­vices en­tailed find­ing work for the un­em­ployed, many of whom were vet­er­ans. “De­pres­sion and PTSD are com­monly as­so­ci­ated with the pres­sures of ac­tive duty. The idea of part­ner­ing rap­tors with vet­er­ans felt like a nat­u­ral thing to do. Get­ting out into na­ture and work­ing with birds seems to re­lease the in­ner tur­moil of­ten ex­pe­ri­enced by those re­turn­ing from war,” Richards said.

In­spi­ra­tion for the Wings of Valor pro­gram took flight in 2011 when Richards par­tic­i­pated in a Wounded War­rior Project with one of her re­ha­bil­i­tated golden ea­gles. “It oc­curred to me that the sym­bol­ism of the golden ea­gle be­ing re­ha­bil­i­tated and re­leased into the wild to honor sol­diers who died in ser­vice to their coun­try re­lated di­rectly to my vi­sion of as­sist­ing vet­er­ans when they re­turned home. I just in­stinc­tively knew that get­ting them out­side work­ing with birds would help them deal with their de­pres­sion. What mil­i­tary per­son wouldn’t feel empowered with a rap­tor on his arm?” Richards said.

Pro­gram spon­sor APF In­dus­tries of Salt Lake City has funded six vet­er­ans in the pro­gram, but more spon­sors are needed to ex­tend the op­por­tu­nity to oth­ers. The Di­vi­sion of Wildlife Re­sources mon­i­tors the fal­conry pro­gram, en­sur­ing the safety and care of the birds. Presently, only vet­er­ans who served in the Afghanistan or Iraq wars are el­i­gi­ble to par­tic­i­pate.

Rec­og­niz­ing the im­por­tance of the ea­gle in the Scout­ing pro­gram, Richards pro­vides Ea­gle Scouts with an op­por­tu­nity to earn their awards by con­struct­ing shel­ters to house the birds. Ev­ery vet­eran has dif­fer­ent needs and so the mew, or shel­ter, is per­son­al­ized and con­structed to meet any spe­cial needs for the in­di­vid­ual. If wheel­chair ac­cess is needed, the mew is built to ac­com­mo­date

easy ac­cess to care for the bird. Upon com­ple­tion, Richards brings one of her re­ha­bil­i­tated ea­gles to the Scout’s Court of Honor. “It is a thrilling ex­pe­ri­ence to see a live ea­gle at a cer­e­mony hon­or­ing Scouts for their hard work and ded­i­ca­tion. There’s re­ally noth­ing more mem­o­rable,” Richards said.

For cen­turies, ea­gles have inspired men and women in this coun­try to be the best they can be. Sgt. Tyler Miller, a vol­un­teer at the Great Basin Wildlife Res­cue and a par­tic­i­pant in the Wings of Valor pro­gram, says fal­conry has given his life di­rec­tion af­ter re­turn­ing from his one-year de­ploy­ment in Afghanistan. He found the chal­lenges of re­build­ing his life were eased when he was ac­cepted into the pro­gram.

“I served as a struc­tural re­pair spe­cial­ist. I was re­quired to main­tain Apache and Black­hawk he­li­copters. The lives of the pi­lots who flew those he­li­copters were in my hands. It was very stress­ful be­ing re­spon­si­ble for the safety of our Spe­cial Forces. I needed to be able to look those pi­lots in the eyes and as­sure them that their he­li­copters were air-wor­thy. Many sleep­less nights were spent check­ing and recheck­ing ev­ery­thing over and over in my mind. That pres­sure, com­pounded by my in­abil­ity to stay closely con­nected with my wife, left me feel­ing a deep sense of dis­con­nec­tion when I missed the birth of my daugh­ter. The most im­por­tant thing for me today is to make up for that time I was away from my fam­ily. I missed out on the first six months of my daugh­ter’s life. Today I fo­cus on re­build­ing my re­la­tion­ships. Patti and the Wings of Valor pro­gram have played a big part in do­ing that.” Miller said.

Although Miller suf­fers from oc­ca­sional panic at­tacks and anx­i­ety, he uti­lizes the virtues of his mil­i­tary ser­vice to re­build his con­fi­dence in him­self and in his abil­ity to cre­ate healthy re­la­tion­ships with his fam­ily and his fal­con. “As an ap­pren­tice fal­coner, I have learned that with de­ter­mi­na­tion, I can cre­ate suc­cess­ful re­la­tion­ships in my life. If I can cre­ate a trust­ing re­la­tion­ship with a wild bird, I know I can be suc­cess­ful in cre­at­ing a trust­ing re­la­tion­ship with my own fam­ily,” Miller said.

For more in­for­ma­tion about Wings of Valor or sched­ul­ing an ea­gle for a Court of Honor, con­tact www.great­bas­in­re­hab@ya­hoo.com.

Hanah War­bur­ton Pho­tog­ra­phy

For­mer Sgt.Tyler Miller is shown with his Red Tail Hawk.

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