Creating Bonds that Cure – The Vanek Family

By the time Jerry and Jennifer Vanek attended an Operation Healing Forces’ Therapeutic Couples Retreat this past summer in Vail, Colorado, they had endured a tumultuous eight years of marriage, including lengthy deployments, pregnancy loss, and a tragic plane crash. In 2017, Jerry, who is with Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), was due to fly out for a training mission when Jennifer had a miscarriage. Sending his baggage ahead, Jerry stayed behind with Jennifer, planning instead to depart the next day. That evening they got the horrific news that one of the KC-130s carrying members of Jerry’s team had crashed in Mississippi, killing all aboard. The news sent them into a five-month tailspin, comforting the devastated widows and families, attending funerals, and helping bereaved families with logistics and memorial services. Before they had the chance to process any of the traumatic events, Jerry left for his next deployment and Jennifer was expecting again. “After missing the birth of our daughter, Jerry came home and then went right back into the next workup for another deployment. We never were able to work on us. It almost cost us our marriage,” Jennifer says. Fortunately, the couple reconciled and welcomed a baby boy in 2021. Experiencing adventures together as a couple, like driving ATVs up the mountains, rock climbing, white-water rafting, and horseback riding, got them dreaming about future possibilities. “We remembered what it was like to have fun together again just the two of us,” Jennifer says. The Operation Healing Forces (OHF) retreat helped the Vanek Family to reconnect and restore their relationship.

Operation Healing Forces is a non-profit organization that serves the Special Operation Forces (SOF) Community. We recognize the decades of war-fighting and sacrifices SOF members made during the Global War on Terror and the toll it has taken on these service members and their families as well as the ongoing challenges and hardships they face as they continue to deploy all over the world. It is our mission to aid active-duty and recent-veteran wounded, ill, injured, and fallen SOF and their families by aiding in the process of mentally, physically, and emotionally healing these individuals so they may return to the fight or successfully transition into civilian life.

Operation Healing Forces serves a very elite and very worthy segment of our population. Our organization is dedicated to supporting the Special Operation Forces of the United States Department of Defense’s United States Special Operation Command (USSOCOM) located at MacDill, AFB. Typically referred to as “quiet professionals”, Special Operation Forces include Rangers, Green Berets, Night Stalkers, Delta Force, Navy SEALS, Air Force Special Tactics, and Marine Raiders. Unfortunately, SOF members claim the highest divorce, cancer, and suicide rates of all the military. OHF is dedicated to healing the visible and invisible wounds and hardships this community faces. OHF is committed to focusing on the SOF communities’ well- being by restoring families and providing the resources and tools necessary for SOF members to reclaim happy, productive, and fulfilling lives.

OHF aids SOF and SOF family members in healing their wounds by “Creating Bonds that Cure”. OHF reconnects families through our therapeutic couple retreats that strengthen and restore relationships that have experienced long periods of separation and multiple war-time deployments. We also provide respite and promote the importance of self-care through our Caregiver and Gold Star Family Retreats. Lastly, OHF provides necessary and life-changing resources to provide for the immediate physical, financial, and emotional need SOF members and SOF family members may require.

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