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Veterans enjoy Lake Lanier getaway
Freedom Alliance sponsored, paid for trip
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Samuel Walley of Gainesville rides on a WaveRunner on Lake Lanier on Saturday. From Thursday through Sunday, attendees of an outdoor therapy trip hosted by Freedom Alliance took part in a variety of activities including fishing, boating, jet skiing, tubing and wake boarding. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Soon it would be time for the veterans to climb on planes and return home to their everyday lives.

But for a while longer, they spent Sunday afternoon sipping in cool breezes and scenic views of Lake Lanier from the balcony of David and Rita Scott’s Forsyth County home.

“It’s like a game resetter of some type,” said Josh Sherwood, a longtime Marine based out of Portland, Ore., of the weekend spent with six other servicemen. “Being here, you can talk with the guys about stuff you can’t (talk about) at home with your family.”

Based out of the Scotts’ home, the veterans enjoyed outdoor activities including fishing, boating, jet skiing, tubing and wakeboarding as part of a therapeutic weekend sponsored and paid for by Virginia-based nonprofit Freedom Alliance and its donors.

“Getting out and doing something gives you a sense of there’s something greater than myself,” programs director Pepper Ailor said of the event.

Outdoor therapies “provide the restorative care and rehabilitation needed for men and women returning home with combat-related injuries,” states a press release from the group.

Veterans are wrestling with such conditions as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and amputated arms and legs.

And therapy isn’t always about physical activities. Just hanging out is another way to relax.

“We’ll sit out here, talk, laugh, joke on each other,” Ailor said. “They tell stories sometimes about their experiences, their service, and that’s all healthy.”

Ronnie Pulley, who had a kidney transplant in March, said he can “fully become active again in the gym and athletics” next March — or a year after the operation.

He didn’t stay idle over the weekend, however.

“My fellow Marines and veterans wouldn’t allow me to hold back anything,” said Pulley, who served in the military from 2007 to 2012.

He also was impressed by the surroundings.

“This place is a dream,” said Pulley, now living in Augusta. “It’s beautiful. I actually want to move here.”

Keniel Martinez of Hyattsville, Md., deployed to Iraq in 2005 and although he escaped physical injury from roadside bomb attacks, he suffers from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury. A few years later, he was badly injured in a motorcycle wreck, going through knee reconstruction.

“It took me a long time just to get out and do stuff to make me feel like I was actually alive,” Martinez said.

“At first, you have guilt because so many people didn’t make it back (from combat) ... and then you don’t really want to enjoy things,” he said.

Freedom Alliance, founded in 1990, started holding the Lake Lanier retreat four years ago.

Rita Scott, who serves on the board of directors, said she and her husband are happy to open their homes to the veterans.

“We are honored to be able to provide vacations to our American heroes over the years,” she said.

“We are incredibly grateful for their dedication to and sacrifice for our country and we are thankful for the opportunity to give back and to ensure their time here is memorable.”

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