Our vision is that all returning Special Operations Forces
are able to reclaim happy, productive, and fulfilling lives.
Their lives are our mission.
The mission of Operation Healing Forces (OHF) is to serve the needs of our active-duty and recent-veteran wounded, ill, and injured Special Operations Forces (SOF) and their families by starting or continuing the process of mentally, physically and emotionally healing in preparation to return to the fight or transition successfully into civilian life.
“After 14 years of war, the mental and physical price has taken its toll on our SOF operators and their loved ones. We've seen the highest divorce and suicide rates in the history of SOF.”
– Admiral William McRaven, Former Commander U.S. Special Operations Command
Our concept is simple: Strengthen human bonds.
Through therapeutic retreats, our purpose is to enable these war-torn men and women to break through the silence to openly discuss their battlefield and personal hardships. A safe, protected environment allows our participants to let their guard down and share. Realizing they are not alone, participants discover it is appropriate — and not a stigma — to seek help, support, and guidance when needed from fellow SOF professionals and their families.
The retreat environment combined with peer-to-peer counseling and recreational therapies enable sincere bonding between couples, with other spouses going through similar hardships, and among fellow SOF service members.
Additionally, OHF will seek to help and support the special operations community through a Special Operations Additional Resources Program.
OHF will work directly with USSOCOM’s Care Coalition to institute an immediate needs program for wounded, ill, and injured SOF and/or to alleviate financial hardship.
Will institute an Ambassador’s program to facilitate OHF alumni raising awareness about OHF and networking in the SOF community to increase our SOF database.
Will increase our social media presence to maintain and strengthen ties with our alumni, SOF community, and visibility to potential and current donors.
Will coordinate and facilitate SOF candidates looking for employment in the insurance business with the Markel Veterans Program.
Will re-enforce, strengthen, and build the OHF Alumni program to maintain ties, monitor, and as needed assist OHF past participant SOF families.
Since our founding in 2011, Operation Healing Forces has achieved more than we initially imaged possible. Our scope has grown. Our tangible results have grown. Our positive impact on the lives of service members and spouses has grown. Yet our goals remain the same:
OHF helps the SOF wounded couple to reintegrate with each other. In addition, many veterans and their mates have often discovered an ability to heal from within and reconnect with what’s good in life as they share experiences, information, and interact with other SOF operators and their spouses who have undergone similar difficult circumstances.
Many SOF wounded return from the battlefield not only with physical wounds but also with unseen wounds. When a warrior is wounded, it’s not just the service member but also the family who is injured. Too often the family gets caught in a cycle of repeated deployments, hospitals, physical therapy, rehabilitation and unit mission demands to the detriment of the family. OHF provides a therapeutic experience far from the horrors of war to allow healing of the service member and the family.
OHF presents a program that has proved to save marriages and increase resiliency and health among participants. OHF is one of the very few programs that honor not only the service members but also their life partners. The program creates strong, positive memories for the couple to heal wounds, repair fissures in relationships, build resiliency, save couples from past trauma, and also strengthen bonds for future continued service in America’s military or as veterans in civilian society.
One participant noted, “Upon arrival of these five couples who had never met had one thing in common: They shared the same blank, absent look on their faces. By the end of the retreat, you could read emotion on their faces and in their eyes, and you could literally see them coming back to life.”
We started as one man’s act of kindness.
While watching a TV documentary on rehabilitative efforts for wounded soldiers through SCUBA diving, Florida businessman Gary Markel had an idea: Why not lend his yacht and crew free to wounded service members and their spouses for week-long couples retreats? Operation Cruise was then born in November 2011 and renamed Operation Healing Forces (OHF) in March 2016 after programs expanded beyond cruises to include the donations of time at homes and resorts.
Through the generosity of Markel, founder and president of OHF, and from the kind donations of other civilian patriots, OHF became a non-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization that pays all costs incurred in serving wounded SOF couples in the program.
Their thanks are heartfelt.
At Operation Healing Forces (OHF) we are always gratified when participants take the time to thank us for their experience attending Operation Healing Forces events. Below are a few comments from past participants:
“OHF is a life altering event.”
– Navy Corpsman assigned to Marine Raider Special Operations Battalion, awarded Navy Cross for Valor trying to save a wounded Marine Raider and Army Ranger; he was shot also and severely wounded
“OHF allowed my husband to bond with other veterans, share experiences, remember hard times, share resources, and feel connected to others who are trying to heal as well. It was great talking with other wives as well and sharing experiences as caregivers, supporters, and partners during an injury.”
– Wife of a Special Forces Team Sergeant with over 30 years of service and multiple combat deployments who along with his wounds just found out he had cancer
“I was at the end of my rope last year in so many ways – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. After 3 months in a polytrauma unit at the VA and also a major neck surgery again, I am still rehabbing. This may be complete closure for me.”
– Wounded Special Mission Unit Operator with severe traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) from concussions and blasts with over twenty years of military service and multiple combat deployments
“I feel that having an opportunity to come on this retreat has helped put a new and different perspective on life. To be around other military couples has been very helpful to me as a wife - to hear some of the other couples' stories and what they are going through helped me to know there are other wives just like me who are going through similar issues related to military life and the stress of combat related things. I know being around like-minded men was a great help to my husband - he needed this retreat - even though he didn't think he did at the time. He hasn't been this relaxed in a long time – that is priceless.”
–Wife of a wounded Special Forces Team Sergeant with 28 combat deployments
“After dealing with the darker side of humanity for so many years, it’s good to offset those experiences with the brighter, caring side.”
– Air Forces Special Tactics Operator whose severe spinal injuries resulted in his medical discharge
“This retreat brought some 'light' into our lives, and I think a new perspective on some things. It was really helpful to spend time with other military couples who are going through the same things we are. It gives us a hope for a happier future.”
– Wife of a Special Mission Unit Operator who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and multiple traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
“OHF allowed my wife to gain valuable insight into our unique world in order to better understand what
I’m going through. And, it allowed my wife and
I an opportunity to make big strides in progress
with our deteriorating marriage.”
– Special Forces Sergeant who after combat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq contracted West Nile Virus when deployed to Columbia and almost died from the disease
“My husband would never openly share things like he has this week if he were not among his brothers. And, the retreat was just as healing for me. Having the opportunity to reconnect with my husband and connect with the other spouses has been a life changing experience for me.”
– Wife of a Special Operations Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician who received the Purple Heart for his combat wounds
“This retreat really helped my wife understand the military brotherhood and the friendships that are earned for life.”
– Army Ranger who suffered a traumatic improvised explosive device (IED) attack and was medically discharged from the service; he lost his teammates in the blast
“A few words cannot adequately express the impact that Operation Healing Forces has had on our lives. We shared a bond of similar hardship, experiences, and shared pain. Time was also afforded for us to be alone, to reconnect. Prior to this retreat, our divorce was imminent.”
– Wife of a Special Forces Sergeant Major with 30 years of service and more than 30 surgeries from multiple combat tours