USO Warrior Week: Riding with a purpose

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The City of Virginia Beach and United Service Organizations (USO) have designed a one-of-a-kind event for wounded, ill and injured service members and their families.

As part of USO Warrior Week, veterans and active military were invited to take part in EQUI-VETS, an opportunity to ride horses at the Naval Air Station Oceana stables in Virginia Beach.

The program is about helping veterans ride their way in the right direction, because sometimes the deep wounds of war rob them of that. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, as many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans and an estimated 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan.

“Somebody with PTSD will have a horse that’s beginning to trust, he or she will then think, ‘If this prey animal can trust me — a predator — maybe I can try to develop some trust again,” said Jill Brown, a retired Navy Commander who is volunteering at Oceana Stables. “It’s almost like magic.”

USO Warrior Week

Jennifer Cuevas, a veteran with PTSD, says she appreciates the work of USO Warrior Week and also enjoys the horses.

“It’s kind of a healing thing,” said Cuevas. “You can tell them anything they want and they won’t judge you. It’s almost like they can sense it.”

A simple activity like riding a horse surrounded by a sea of veterans is comforting.

“It’s nice to know that you are not alone and you can share your stories with them among a comfortable and safe environment,” said Cuevas.

EQUI-VETS is an environment created by those behind USO Warrior Week, which is giving our wounded warriors a chance to ride their way back. For some, it’s a ride back to normalcy.

Photos: Service members ride horses during Warrior Week

Whether it’s a mental or physical feeling, the horses are a coping mechanism.

Erica Halpert has been serving our country for six years. She was injured — a dislocation in her hip — had surgery and now has been medically processed out of the Navy.

“I walk with a cane now so horseback riding can help me walk better,” said Halpert.

“These are the finest young Americans we have and these are the finest young people we have and they believe in this country and they believe in it it enough that they are willing to put their lives on the line,” said Black.

Find a full list of USO Warrior Week events here.