Battle Flag Ranch recipient of Home Depot's generosity
She says it simply, and in a quiet voice.
"He was a different person. He wasn't the man I married. He had faded and was just a shell. His body was there, but Jason wasn't."
Dina Henry could be classified as collateral damage, the unintended victim known as a military spouse of a battle-weary serviceman trying to navigate the choppy waters of reentry into "normal" civilian life.
Battle Flag Ranch has been named one of MoonShare's top 50 non-profits for 2016. Go to battleflagranch.com to help with possibly winning a $5,000 grant.
"Truth is, life is just no longer normal," Jason says.
It's been almost five years, back home in Mt. Juliet.
Jason, 44, was in the thick of it during the height of combat in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012. He served in eastern Afghanistan, right near the border of Pakistan. People really didn't understand why he volunteered to serve. But, he felt he had a duty because he can save lives.
He's a physician's assistant. The horrendous fact was, his skills were desperately needed over there.
Eight months leads to invisible wounds
"It was two-fold; obviously I felt it was my duty as a soldier," says this Tennessee National Guard member and Navy Corpsman. "But I guess there was a religious aspect. I wanted to be with the war fighters and pray with them. I knew there was a good chance they weren't coming back home."
Sadly, he was a spot-on portender.
Fourteen of Jason's comrades in his company battalion didn't come back home. That's a huge hole in a tight-knit, "watch each others' back" company.
Jason knows he prayed with some of them. He knows the relatively short eight months of combat seemed like an eternity and changed his life, threatened his marriage and ate away his soul.
He helped save the life of an 8-year-old boy who was torn apart by an IED (improvised explosive device).
"He got better and his dad came back with him to thank us later," says Jason. "That's when I knew I made a difference over there."
But back home, a husband and father of three young boys, Jason could not remember that "difference." He was deployed earlier than his comrades, so he left a little earlier. He felt alone and spent hours trying to keep in touch with his battalion to see what was going on.
"I became seriously depressed," he recalls. "I had panic attacks, I was shaking, I couldn't take care of my kids. I found myself so mad at the world."
And he got counseling. He was put on a myriad of anti-depressants.
"I wasn't happy, I wasn't sad, I just didn't care," says Jason.
'You are scaring me'
Jason's world tipped over with his wife's words.
"You are scaring me, you are scaring our kids," Dina tells him.
Jason says he reeled then.
"My whole world, my being here was to protect them, and I had scared them," he says through tears. "She was just being honest."
A last grab to save their marriage, the couple found themselves at a bed and breakfast in East Tennessee.
"It was the first time in such a long time I was able to get a night's sleep," Jason says. "It was peaceful, it was a refuge."
Jason had a revelation in the mountains.
"I realized I loved the guys and girls who went through what I went through," he says. "I realized when they come home they need something like this. I have street cred; I can be a sounding board. They can trust me. I knew I wanted to provide a place a couple can come and not explain. They know I already accept them. It's not easy. We've been there and back."
Battle Flag is born
Jason received much appreciated and much needed therapy at Lantern Lane Farm in Mt. Juliet. Ralph Cook heads up the program with his wife, Joni.
"Our heart breaks and our souls bleeds over the pain of each and every serviceman and servicewoman who may have physically survived the horrors of war abroad, but whose families now face the threat of destruction at home," Jason says.
In June, Jason and his wife opened non-profit Battle Flag Ranch on Couchville Pike in Mt. Juliet. They are leasing a beautiful rustic cabin built in 1790 from the Cooks. With the Cooks, they offer four-day "marriage retreats," says Jason who formerly worked at Summit Medical Center, but is now works in interventional radiology at Centennial in Nashville.
"Lantern Lane Farm is very pleased to provide both traditional and equine assisted therapy for the veterans and their families that come to Battle Flag Ranch for services," says Lantern Lane Farm Operation Officer Joni. "Jason and Dina Henry have a desire to see healing take place in the lives of those that have given so much for our country and we are excited to be a part of the healing process through our therapy services."
Along with the Cooks who provide therapy, the Henry's mission is to provide a respite for battle weary veterans and their equally weary spouses and families. The ranch offers literal shelter by giving veterans and their families the much deserved, yet sadly rare, gifts of a beautifully serene getaway and a brief time for quiet refreshment and renewal.
Fighting on the home front
Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, the divorce rate among military couples has skyrocketed 42 percent. War puts a tremendous strain on families, particularly young couples with children.
"Battle Flag Ranch helps America's defenders face the new marching orders of an often unexpected struggle: reestablishing wholeness in their families," Jason says. "As a unique, positive and encouraging community resource for all military service veterans and their spouses."
Battle Flag Ranch simply helps families find the emotional ceasefire they need to once again band together and reengage life as a united front.
"Simply put, it can be very difficult to leave a war zone and reenter the relatively peaceful world of family life," says Jason. "We strive to help build the bridge between these two worlds."
Already, says Jason, the cabin has been utilized three times. One stay was a newly-returned single mother and her three children. Along with the cabin stay, there are intense marriage counseling sessions, or single counseling with children and equine therapy.
"This beautiful and peaceful cabin gave me time to spend with my family," says one of her children in a testimony. "The time I spent here gave me no distractions. I am usually on my phone and on social media, but when I came here I could focus more on my family. I love this place so much, and I hope I am able to come back here soon! Thank you so much for a wonderful time and cabin."
Jason and Dina share their experiences with visitors and Jason admits sometimes old wounds are scratched open and they are there to spend time with the spouses who made need a little breathing, apart from one another, for a breather.
"One couple came from Texas, and they said their marriage needed help after return from deployment," says Jason. "They came out, and it was secluded and they could focus on each other."
Jason says founding this outreach makes him "feel great."
"I want to take care of these guys, we already have that bond," he says.
Word is out about how Jason continues to save lives, but in a very different way at Battle Flag Ranch. Last week Home Depot spent many hours and days volunteering to build a fence, a lean-to for horses and a shed for feed at the ranch.
According to Meredith Fevold, Hermitage Home Depot associate, five stores were involved on the Battle Flag Ranch project, which encompassed 30 volunteers. They received an $8,000 grant to complete the additions to the ranch.
Home Depot Foundation's Christian Glowacki-Cornell said since 2011, Home Depot has had a goal to benefit veterans in some way. Already, $110 million has been devoted to veterans and over 25,000 homes have been refurbished.
"We thought Battle Flag Ranch was a perfect fit, and we even hope to get out there next year, too," she said. "We have a lot of veteran associates, and Jason's work hits close to the heart."
Meredith said the 3.5-day project at the ranch in Mt. Juliet equated to about 500 volunteer hours, which is about $10,000 in man-hours.
"Jason approached us about building a gazebo and we shared the vision and it morphed into so much more," Meredith says. "At our opening meeting there Jason was so overwhelmed he choked up."
What got Meredith speechless with emotion was Jason's presentation to her of a bracelet engraved with the names of the 14 serviceman killed in his battalion.
"He told me the bracelet kept him going," she says.
"I cherish it more than anything I've ever been given. I think what our team did for Jason is the very least we can do."
Jason's heartfelt gift to Meredith has to say it all. He gets too emotional to talk about his gratitude.
An easier walk these days
It's not all champagne and roses in a marriage that has a walking wounded warrior. However, Dina says Battle Flag Ranch helped restore her husband and her marriage.
"It's our way of finally giving back to others and walk with them," she says. "I'm a testament to woman that hope is not all lost. There is restoration. We will walk with them with open hearts. We are a safe haven, a sanctuary. It's perhaps easier to walk away, but this is so worthwhile."
Dina said what she missed most about her husband was "his ability to relax and laugh."
"So much was taken away, his soul was," she says quietly. "But, he has such a big heart, his big heart survived."
Writer Laurie Everett may be contacted at email@example.com.