The Highground Female Veterans Retreat Includes Special Honor Stone Ceremony

Even though Vietnam Veteran Nurse Sarah Blum was only at The Highground for four days, she was able to help Veterans from across the region in ways that will last a long time, perhaps a lifetime.

Sarah is a decorated Vietnam Veteran Nurse who earned the Army Commendation Medal serving as an operating room nurse at the 12th Evacuation Hospital Cu Chi, Vietnam during the height of the fighting in 1967. She has dedicated herself to serving Veterans, especially those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or military sexual trauma (MST). Sarah is also an accomplished author. Her book “Women Under Fire” is currently available at womenunderfire.net.

On September 8, Sarah led an afternoon presentation for the general public on her military service experience as a nurse during the Vietnam War. The Highground Museum garage was filled to capacity. The 90-minute presentation was followed by a Q&A session with Sarah that lasted well into the evening. 

Sarah’s main objective in traveling from her Auburn, Washington home to Neillsville was to be the main presenter for The Highground’s Annual Female Veterans Weekend Retreat held September 9–11. The weekend was a combination of exciting activities and workshops based on proven therapeutic value for PTSD, MST and general mental and physical well-being, all in a beautiful setting. The many opportunities for “talking circles” led to this retreat standing apart from others in the depth of trust, healing and camaraderie among the large group of Veterans.

The Veteran attendees were lodged at the Moraine Motel next to The Highground or they camped in campers on loan for the weekend or on their own at The Highground. The Highground extends many thanks to Dawn and Kay at the Moraine Motel, Betty Nemitz and Jeff Schultz for helping with accommodations.

The first activity of the weekend got the retreat off to a exciting start. A 1962 UH-1 Huey owned by Combat Helicopters Inc., Dave Schmitz and Barry Hammarback, met the Veterans at the Neillsville airport where the Veterans were able to take in an experience that brought back old memories for some. For the Vietnam War Nurses who were present, it was a healing experience. Upon leaving the airport, one Vietnam Nurse stated, “The sound of a Huey meant wounded were being brought in to us…not a welcoming sound. Today helped me “leave” that trauma here.”

Friday also brought a fun and unique quilt project by Kristine Boon of Christy Country Quilts of Neillsville. The Veterans were able to have photos and messages printed onto fabric blocks which will be created into a quilt by Kristine.

Led by Sarah, the first of many “talking circles” among the Veterans were held on Friday afternoon. This brought the Veterans together and created an environment of safety and trust that allowed bonds of friendship, support and individual healing from PTSD and/or MST to begin. Several Veterans said “this is the first time I feel like I can talk about this.” The Veterans ranged in age from mid-20’s to 80’s. Many of the Veterans shared statements of anger that “this abuse and problems have been going on with women in the military for decades and it is still happening.” The age range elicited many expressions of gratitude for the older generations of women that paved the way for advancement and recognition that is now possible for women in the military.

A tour of The Highground led by Executive Director Chris Pettis and a bonfire at the Moraine Motel brought Friday to a close.

Linda Imler of AKF Martial Arts Academy got the Veterans up and moving on Saturday morning with a morning stretch and introduction to Tai Chi, an accessible form of physical activity that has been proven to reduce stress and promote good mental and physical health. After a workshop by Sarah Blum, the Veterans attended workshops on Archery led by Heidi Bower and Guided Forest Therapy led by Tina Wagner of Healing Oaks. Both the archery and forest therapy activities promote mental centering, stress reduction and physical movement in the outdoors. The day ended with Klabon’s famous venison steak supper (a retreat tradition), a Veteran talking circle and music at the bonfire by Blaine Howard and his wife.

Sunday morning began with a “Veteran check-in” workshop by Sarah. This was followed by a very special Legacy Stone Ceremony with the female Veterans dedicating an Honor Stone to all women who have served (and those who will serve) in the U.S. military. The ceremony was led by the women Veterans with a Color Guard, invocation and speaking. The inscription on the Legacy Stone reads “Warriors – Friends – Courageous – Inspiring – Sisters in Arms”. The ceremony was filled with honor and emotion as the group paid homage to the women that served decades ago who broke down many barriers and with honor to all those who followed in their footsteps.

After the ceremony, the Veterans took part in a Sculpey clay art introductory workshop led by Theresa Hebert. This art form is an inexpensive hobby that can be used for a wide variety of projects to foster creativity. Scott Schultz of The Heartbeat Center for Writing, Literacy and the Arts closed the retreat with a presentation on journaling and expressing thoughts to work through challenging times and to promote releasing ideas and bringing joy into life.

Due to the overwhelming response to this female Veteran retreat weekend, The Highground will be developing several programs for female Veterans to gather for one to three-day events.

A Winter Retreat for all Veterans, male and female, is scheduled for February 3–5, 2023. The Highground is taking Veteran registrations for this retreat now. The retreat will include ice fishing, snowshoeing, a Sculpey clay decorative tile workshop, creative writing, PTSD workshops and a chocolate workshop. More information is available by emailing Theresa at museum@thehighground.us, by calling 715-743-4224 or visiting The Highground website at thehighground.us.

The Highground would not have the ability to host healing Veterans retreats such as these without the generous help of sponsors. Current 2022 sponsors for The Highground Veterans Weekend Retreats are: Sarah Blum; Marshfield Clinic, Security Health; Wiley Sparks; Ameriprise Financial (D Meyer); Chips of Marshfield LLC; Foreign Automotive Inc.; Loraine Prue; Maureen Hornung; Starbucks; Timber Rattlers; Weber’s Farm Store; Gypsie Hollow; Merle Norman-The Day Spa; Reigel Plumbing & Heating; Bigby Coffee; Lumberyard Bar & Grill; VVA #479; DAV Rib River Chap 31; Hardees – Neillsville, Colby, Medford; Thomas & Fay Liner; Dorothy & Dean Evensen; Hartford VFW Post 8834; Richard & Kristine Karl; Bonnie Henchen; Richard Ottum; Rolling Thunder Chapter 2; Fred & Kim Berg; Simplicity Credit Union; Central WI Broadcasting; Holly Hoppe; Marshfield Professional Police Assoc.; Deanna Rotar; American Legion Sylvan Post #44; Vickie Davis; Hansen’s IGA; BP Drescher Oil; Linda Imler – AKF Martial Arts; Heidi Bower; The Heartbeat Center for Writing, Literacy & the Arts; Skip & Debbie Klabon; Hiller’s True Value; Julie Diesing; Moraine Motel; Blaine Howard; Christie Country Quilts; Healing Oaks; WWIS; Betty Nemitz; Jeff Schultz; and Michele Benson.

The upcoming Winter Bowl is The Highground’s primary fundraiser for The Highground Veterans Retreat program. Supporters are invited and encouraged to take part in this fun event, scheduled to be held on January 29, 2023 at Bowl Winkles in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. For more information, send an email to Bonnie at events@thehighground.us, call 715-743-4224 or visit thehighground.us.

The Highground is located at W7031 Ridge Rd, Neillsville WI 54456.