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By John A. Raniowski





   We are taught “Team, Teammate, then Self” when we begin our journey to be a member of the warrior class. But we are also told; “Remember when war is done with you all you have is your family, be kind and knowledgeable of that. For war never looks back to the shore she has left and she does not shed a tear for those she left behind, she just goes on……”


  I did not see that impact, nor the consequence that my devotion to military service would have on my family. At the end of 25 years of military service my zeal, fervor, for service was no less and what I would come to find out is that my families “service” was nonetheless either. While I was in the military I enjoyed the blessing of a family, but I did not appreciate what it meant to have a family. My attitude was more; “If you are here when I return great, if not, well you were not issued with my sea bag.”  Yet While I cycled in and out of deployments, contingency operations, training, and combat…so was my family.  My daughters learned to rationalize a “Papa” who was gone, gone more than home because of his greater love for country, than family. They learned to internalize emotions and passion, rather than expressing. They learned not to not talk about what Papa did, because that could get someone hurt or worse.  All of this happening before my oldest was even ten years old. Then to complete the experience they learned what it meant to have a Papa who is not who he once was, mentally, emotionally, physically. Through this all, through their “service to country,” they valued, respected, and loved me. 


   So how do I know what my children went through, if I was not there? When I retired I promised I would learn to be parent, father, more important…..a Papa. My girls have an undying passion for nature and long to spend every waking moment in the embrace of the day’s sun and wind, to be consumed by what this world has to give them in the countryside. To achieve this they began to ride at a very young age and got involved with 4H. As I began my new journey out of the uniform, I began to spend more and more time with them and their animals. As we did so I noticed my daughters begin to discuss what has been their perspective, viewpoint of my service…our service. I found myself neither defensive nor offensive when we would talk while working at the barn with the horses, or when we were in the goat pen working with our little “Chiefs”. 


   I found I was open to not just what they had to say, but to listening, to sometimes even asking them to explain or share more. It was not until I spoke with “GORDO” a fellow teammate and best friend, did I realize that there was a psycho therapeutic program using animals, specifically horse.  As it was explained to me; they are nature’s mediators, a physical manifestation of a “sin eater,” Gordo would say.  As I began to see, hear, feel how my daughters served my country while I was gone, I began to understand how much they did and have given. You see when your 12 year old tells you she use to stand at the end of your bed and watch you sleep, because if she did not hear you screaming, reliving the war, she did not know if you were ok, for her my distress was her normalcy. Then there is my youngest when she was 8 and she tells me; “Papa I use to watch as you would come home from overseas and spend hours, days in the garage taking your kits apart and putting them back together, then you would do it in the dark, and then you would do it while drinking…..I would then lock you in the garage.” Rather than getting mad at her for that, I found myself thanking her and with a chest aching with the grief I apologized. 


   I was injured in combat and each time I went back.  I ardently believed no one could do what I did, to bring another father, brother, son, husband home like I could. But when your child turns to you one day and ask;” Papa you go to war to keep me safe and bring other papas home, but who is going to make sure you come home?” You cannot deny the effects of the families’ service. The last time I was injured and sent home I was a bit tattered and after being home a few weeks my oldest again asked; “Papa can we talk?” I said sure! She said; “Papa I thought you were dead, no one would talk to me and all I heard was how bad you were and mommy crying.”

  I decided that after my families’ experiences we could not be the only ones going through this and is there a way to provide these families an opportunity to utilize nature to help Connect the family at its core, Restore their family spirit, and Thrive in a new normalcy.  I spoke with a strong spirited former teammate of mine, John Janota, and Ryan Jones, who is a long time passionate support of those who serve us in uniform. It was agreed we would begin to develop a place, an oasis, where we could, be it a brief or even more long term, support and provide reprieve to life’s modern challenges for “Those Serving at Home.” We also realized that anyone who serves in uniform, domestic, or overseas, in defense of our nation and its liberties, deserved our help and relief. With that we decided that any child of any person volunteering to serve us be they Law Enforcement, Firefighter, Emergency Medical Service, or Military, that we would welcome their family “service” members.


   To that end we established Hero Kids Foundation, “Giving Light to Those Serving at Home,” 29 October, 2013. Since that time we have obtain our 501(c)3 status, begun to solicit for support, and welcomed partners, such as;  Vista Graphics,  Jones Law group, Alpha Omega Horsemanship, Tier-One Quality Solutions, Cowboy Church (Chesapeake), Homes for Heroes Hampton Roads, and Citizen K9 Dog Training & Agility. Presently we are generating development plans for a development in Chesapeake Virginia and our mission is to have both equestrian and canine psycho therapeutic centers, along with a nature based garden and livestock program. 


   Hero Kids Foundation is committed to mentoring and developing the most highly successful and well-adjusted children of Military, Law Enforcement, Firefighters, and Emergency Medical Services personnel in our nation’s history. The foundation will raise awareness; enlist the public's aid for the needs of these children, help assist them to learn to support one another and their families, and provide unique programs and services to meet the variety of needs for our youths.

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