The #5th Gathering of Mountain Eagles, 28 July-1 Aug 2010
The fifth Gathering of Mountain Eagles was conducted from 28 July – 1 August 2010. Nineteen wounded/injured Soldiers, Marines and cadre members from the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Eustis, VA; Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC; and the Wounded Warrior Battalion-East, Camp Lejeune, NC participated in the events that all of the “old hands” agreed was the best so far.
We first gathered at Smokey’s-on-the-Gorge restaurant near Fayetteville, WV. Here we were welcomed by Frank Goff, a Korean War veteran with two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart. Franks is a very active member of the Korean War Veterans and was instrumental in getting a monument to commemorate Korean War veterans in St. Albans, WV. Frank also thanked the Soldiers and Marines for their service – as they did to him for his. Later we presented him and Larry Poli, who coordinated our meal, with our GME coins. At Smokey’s, all could view the New River and understand why West Virginia is considered such a beautiful part of the country.
The first challenge is always considered one of the best – whitewater rafting. For the third year in a row, Rob Dobson of West Virginia Adventures coordinated a collection of whitewater rafting guides from a variety of companies. Those guides who donated their time to take us down the lower New River’s Class II-IV+ rapids included Nathan Plymale of West Virginia Adventures; Mark Lewis of the West Virginia Professional River Outfitters Association; Melanie Seiter of Songer Whitewater (who also donated the delicious noon meal); and Jed Lawson of Alpine Adventures. In addition, Robert Taylor of Ace Adventures expertly drove the bus over the narrow roads leading to the river. To say that all thoroughly enjoyed the combination of moments where we relaxingly floated down the river to moments where we took on rapids such as Surprise, Keeney Brothers, Double Z and Greyhound Bus Stopper is certainly an understatement. We presented GME coins to those who provided their services to help us.
After the river adventures, we had great meals at Chico’s restaurant owned by retired WV National Guard Colonel Ramon Lopez. Afterwards, we were escorted back to the hotel by the Oak Hill Police Department. Upon arrival, Robert Taylor and Matt Corbin assumed a familiar (??) position as shown in the picture. Just some fun after a great day on the river and a superb meal!
Early the next morning we hit the ropes and wires of the zipline course at “Treetops” Adventures. Our guides were Bud Franz, Josh “Fuzzy” Stover, Tabitha Erwin, and Chris Kurkland (all GME coin recipients). Most military personnel have been through some type of “slide for life” course, but as with our Soldiers and Marines, few have had as much fun and adventure on a course such as the one in the mountains near Fayetteville, WV. The Treetops webpage has an appropriate quote from a reporter at Popular Mechanics.
“By the time I glide onto the Almost Heaven platform – at 90 feet, the course’s highest perch – I’ve zipped along 3430 feet of cable and teetered across five sky bridges so high I could see into squirrel nests. I’m no longer chewing on my stomach with the first steps out of the trees, no longer scared to look down. Instead, I jump eagerly from the platforms. Hands off the harness, I spin in midair. I can’t wait to fly.”
– T. Edward Nickens
We then went to a wonderful pizza place called “Pies and Pints” in Fayetteville. There as GME staff member and much traveled retired “Green Beret” Dave Soczka said, “I’ve eaten pizza all over the world and this has to be the best I have ever eaten.” Thanks (and GME coins) went to Angie (Manager) and Allison (server) for the great food and discounts and the excellent service.
The next challenge was golf at the Resort at Glade Springs in Daniels, WV. Very few of us had ever played golf and all those who have ever hacked their way around a course know just how hard that can be. Activities were all arranged by Greg Haines, Mike James and Rebecca Blaine of Glade Springs. Over twenty members of Glade Springs showed up to play on the beautiful course and to express their thanks to the Soldiers and Marines.
After many thanks (and GME coins) to all those at Glade Springs, we went on a “picnic” at Grandview Park prior to enjoying the outdoor drama “Hatfields and McCoys” to end the day. It was a long day indeed, but all were up to the activities.
Saturday started with the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) of Southern West Virginia (organized by Pat Hanifan) and a West Virginia State Trooper leading our convoy of our six vehicles and 32 motorcycles from Beckley, WV to Lewisburg, WV. At Lewisburg, we had an opportunity to meet all the riders and see their motorcycles. Thirty-six PGRs and guests riders from a church group had a great time talking with the us. They will all be presented with GME coins as soon as we get another order processed to make them.
We went from there to the Professional Golf Association’s Greenbrier Classic golf tournament at White Sulphur Springs, WV. Needless to say, there was little resemblance between our golfers playing at Glade Springs and those at the Greenbrier. Although, the hospitality tents helped sooth concerns anyone may have had about the comparison.
The highlight of the day was a return to Lewisburg for the Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley concert. Some fast talking by SSgt Drew Bourne and the generosity of Security Manager Mike McGovern got us into the VIP section where food and close-up views of the concert were enjoyed by all. However, we could have done without the very realistic environment props (rain) that went along with Brad Paisley’s “H2O Tour.”
On Sunday, we presented special GME coins to all and signed dollar bills for each to keep as a reminder of those who participated in the trip. The volunteer staff of the “Gathering of Mountain Eagles” were really pleased to provide the Soldiers and Marines of GME V with opportunities to challenge them and receive the thanks of Americans throughout West Virginia for their service.
“Mountain Eagles are always free.”