Operation Lone Star supports Warriors Heart in the Hill Country

Jim Conley

Warriors Heart is a rehabilitation center that provides private in-patient treatment to veterans and first responders suffering from the results of chemical dependency, alcohol abuse and psychological disorders related to post-traumatic stress or the psychological effects of mild traumatic brain injury.

Founded by Josh Lannon, a businessman, and Tom Spooner, a retired US Army veteran who served in the 82nd Airborne and Special Forces, Warriors Heart is on the grounds of a former ConocoPhillips resort near Bandera in the Texas Hill Country.

Operation Lone Star-Texans Supporting Our Troops became aware of Warriors Heart last year when retired HPD Officer Mark Caronna did a presentation on the facility at an HPOU meeting. Mark and I knew each other from our assignments in the Training Division years ago. He retired in 2010 after several years in Narcotics Division and is now a volunteer chaplain at Warriors Heart.

Upon hearing that Operation Lone Star’s mission is to provide emotional and material support to veterans as well as active-duty military personnel and their families, Mark invited us to tour the Warriors Heart facility.

Due to scheduling conflicts we were unable to visit Warriors Heart but Mark and I exchanged emails as he gave me detailed information about Warriors Heart and its goals and objectives. I conferred with Operation Lone Star Vice President Judy Pierce and Secretary/Treasurer Sandy Alexander and we agreed that our charter would allow us to donate items and/or equipment so long as they benefitted Warriors Heart’s veterans and first responders.

I contacted Mark and asked what equipment would most benefit the participants of Warriors Heart’s recovery programs. He explained that a major portion of the recovery process began in the wood and metal shops where the hands-on therapy begins. He spoke to the staff and was told that, due to the heavy work load in the wood shop, they need a band saw and a dust collector. After receiving the specifics from the wood shop manager, we purchased the band saw and dust collector and had them delivered to Warriors Heart.

July 9 of this year I took Mark up on his offer of a tour of the Warriors Heart facility. I arrived at 10:30 and found Mark waiting for me near the parking lot. It’s a beautiful complex located about a mile off Highway 16. We entered the administration building where he introduced me to Co-Founder Josh Lannon and Director of Operations Troy Konvicka, a retired US Army Special Forces Veteran.

They immediately pointed to a wall in the lobby area on which several wooden US and Texas flags were mounted and proudly announced, “These were made by your band saw.” They were genuinely grateful for the items donated by Operation Lone Star and were excited about giving me a tour.

Mark began the tour in the dining hall where he explained the daily, and very structured, schedule; a specific time and place for each therapy session, activity, chow and lights-out. The structure is an important part of the healing process in that military veterans are used to, and thrive on, structure and discipline. As we walked the property Mark pointed out the various buildings used for therapy, counselling, de-tox, dormitories, private rooms and the wood-working and metal shop, which is an integral part of the recovery process.

The Warriors Heart participants are referred to as clients. There is no rank structure among the military veterans or first responders, who may be law enforcement, firefighters or EMTs or paramedics. Each is a

Warrior, and for the vast majority that Warrior spirit is who they are, and it is not to be taken lightly or to be taken away from them.

To reinforce that mindset each client is taken to the metal shop and given an old railroad spike. The assigned task is to make a warrior’s tomahawk from the spike. The shop has a forge and all the tools and equipment necessary to successfully complete the task. The purpose is to give the client something old, used, and probably of no use to anyone and to make a new, useful warrior’s tool.

As Mark explained to me many of the clients believe they have no value to themselves or anyone else. By heating and hammering the railroad spike into a tomahawk; by cutting and trimming cedar limbs into a handle they have taken something they previously believed to be useless and made it valuable again. The recovery process has now begun.

While walking the grounds I was shown sculptures made in the metal shop by clients. Many were intriguing and thought-provoking as each represented the builder’s innermost thoughts. A warrior’s shield with a sword run through it. A heart with a sword in it, with a liquor flask as the handle. Mark explained that once the client sculpted the representation of personal issues the healing process soon followed.

He took me to the wood shop and the metal shop, which are located in the same building, and quickly pointed out the band saw and dust collector in the back corner. Along the walls of the wood shop various examples of wood-working were on display or in the process of being made. A doorway led to a smaller, hot room which was the metal shop. A forge was mounted on a stand, with an anvil close by. Tongs and heavy hammers were available for use in making tomahawks and other metal sculptures. As with the wood shop, completed and in-progress sculptures were on display. Both shops play a major part in the rehabilitation and recovery process. It was amazing to see how talented the clients are.

We ended the tour with a chicken fried steak lunch with the staff and clients. I was impressed with Mark’s enthusiasm as well as that of the staff members I met. I was excited to get home to tell Judy and Sandy about the facility and the dedicated people associated with it.

The three of us met and decided that we needed and wanted to do more for Warriors Heart. It was the enthusiasm and dedication that sold us.

I contacted Mark, told him what we wanted to do and asked him for a list of items that would benefit the clients. The list he sent consisted of items for the wood and metal shops and materials for arts and crafts. Having seen the shops, I understood why those items were on the list.

Judy, Sandy and I went shopping on July 28 and purchased 2 shop fans for the metal shop, 2-disc sanders, 2 belt sanders, extra batteries for each, extra discs and belts for each, a 130-piece tool kit with case, and various hand tools. In addition, we bought canvasses, paints and brushes for the art activities sessions.

We made arrangements to deliver the items on August 2. Mark again met us in the parking lot of the Warriors Heart facility. After introducing Judy and Sandy we went inside and were met by Troy Konvicki, who was excited about the items Operation Lone Star was donating on this second visit.

Mark began the tour for Judy and Sandy’s benefit and was as enthusiastic as he was for me. He again went into detail about the facility and the how’s and why’s of the operation. They were also amazed at the sculptures and woodwork we saw along the way. He pointed out a painting done by a client.

He said they didn’t know if the client had a talent for painting or if the art instructor brought it out of him. Nevertheless, the painting was fascinating.

They enjoyed the tour of the wood shop and metal shop, especially upon seeing the band saw and dust collector we had previously donated.

From there we proceeded to the dining hall where we enjoyed a lunch of boiled shrimp and potatoes, corn on the cob and salad. The head chef is a Navy veteran who prepared meals in the White House for Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush.

Following lunch, we went back to the wood and metal shops where we unloaded the shop fans, sanders, and other items donated by Operation Lone Star. It would be safe to say that the staff and two clients who assisted us were excited and overwhelmed as we carried the equipment into the wood shop.

We returned to the administration building where we met Natalie, the art instructor, and presented the art equipment to her. She was as excited as the group in the wood shop and very grateful.

Then, as they put it, “It’s our turn.” Troy gave us each a Warriors Heart t-shirt then presented us with a wooden American flag, again “…. made with your band saw.” At that point I was momentarily rendered speechless.

Our experience with Warriors Heart ranks with the top two or three experiences we’ve had in Operation Lone Star’s 10 years of existence. We celebrated our 10-year anniversary this past Fourth of July.

The staff is thoughtful, extremely gracious and totally dedicated to their mission of assisting these young men and women through possibly the toughest time in their lives. As we headed back to Houston the main topic of discussion was, “What else can we do for them.”

You can learn more about Warriors Heart at www.warriorsheart.com.

Thank you to the Houston Police Officers Union for your support through the annual Stars and Stripes Charity Golf Tournament, retired HPD Captain Greg Fremin, active and retired HPD officers, ConocoPhillips, Apache Oil and the many individuals who make it possible for Operation Lone Star-Texans Supporting Our Troops to do what we do. We couldn’t have done this without you.

If you have family or friends deployed with the military anywhere in the world please feel free to contact me at jconley7@comcast.net or OperationLoneStar@Hotmail.com.

God Bless Our Troops and God Bless America.