Hundreds of veterans have participated in and benefited from our veteran programs. Here are some of their stories.
Seth Brees - U.S. Air Force National Guard
I had been out of the military nearly four years, and while I was doing well by societal standards, I was treading water. I had a good job, got raises and promotions, but was miserable in the four jobs I had in the four years since getting my DD-214. I would take a job and get tired of it after about six months, then enter a period of grinding it out for another six months to a year before leaving for someplace new. I recognized this was becoming a pattern for me, and it was starting to wear on my soul (and stress my wife out). I felt guilty that I couldn't just be content, which compounded my anxiety and depression. At first, I blamed my boss, the job, the company, then the next boss, then bad luck. When I started to realize that maybe it was something inside me that was the problem, I knew I needed to get to the bottom of my issues before things got worse.
During this time, a friend of mine posted a story on Linkedin about Camp Southern Ground. In that post, he shared a video from CSG explaining some of their veteran programs. He included a nice commentary stating how he received healing from his time at camp. I decided to give CSG a call to learn more. I was not sure what the camp was about, if I would get anything from it, or if I was even qualified (or worthy) to attend. All I knew was that I was hurting and needed something. Lucky, Jennifer Selke answered the phone and could not have been more kind, patient, and gracious to me. I explained what I was feeling about work and life, told her about the cycle I had found myself in, and before I could finish my story, she had invited me to camp. I was expecting a long bureaucratic evaluation process, but in under ten minutes, I was shocked when Jenn said, "I hear this story all the time. There are many like you, and you are exactly the type of person CSG was built for." That phone call alone brought me comfort. I had felt very alone and isolated in my struggle, but now I knew there were many more like me.
Within the week, I received a phone call officially inviting me to CSG. Within a month, I was on a plane bound to Atlanta.
From start to finish, camp was a gift from God. The entire experience emulates an immersive community that I have not felt since the military. Living together, dining together, learning together, and bonding together over the fire pit made me feel a sense of belonging I had not known in a long time. The staff was caring and empathetic, many of them being veterans themselves. Each person was relatable and genuine, and several of the staff were alumni of CSG as well. I especially bonded with Brent in our talks about spirituality and fitness and Sean in our fireside talks about God and random common interests.
Every lesson was worthwhile and life-enriching, but the thing that sticks out to me the most was the course on the Enneagram. I had been familiar with the Enneagram and even taken one of the tests in the past, which indicated I was a type 5. After spending a half-day working with Jake, I had an epiphany: I had my type wrong. This may seem like a trivial thing to most, but for me, it was a life-changer. It turns out I am an Enneagram type 7, and when Jake explained this to me, lightbulbs clicked and my life made a little more sense to me! For years I had been struggling with restlessness, the desire just to GO, and self-imposed guilt from not just being happy at work. In order to get through work, I had been treating myself like a bootcamp trainee that needed to be crushed and molded in "society". Year after year, I increased the pressure on myself to kill off what I perceived to be weaknesses and undesirable character flaws. As it turns out, what I was trying to kill off was my own personality. I was so out of touch with who I was that I perceived my God-given strengths and personality as my weakness. Jake spent a great deal of time with me on this subject, giving me much-needed mentorship. He was extremely patient and caring as I asked a million questions. I resisted the urge to continue the conversation well past class time, but somehow I think he would not have minded. It is obvious he has a God-given gift to help people discover the hidden gems within themselves.
In the weeks following my return from camp, I reflected on the things I learned. In time I felt a burden lift from my soul. Rather than trying to stuff myself into a box society created for me (or one I perceived it created), and rather than trying to kill off the parts of me that I thought were holding me back - I started to accept those parts. I adopted a new strategy towards life, one that sought to be a whole person rather than just getting by in "Drill Sergeant" mode. I realized the parts of me that I previously thought of as bad and broken were really the true me I had been ignoring. When I gave myself permission to be ME, I felt my life get a little easier. Rather than focusing on fitting in, I focused on finding where I belong.
Thanks to what I learned at CSG, I made a plan using my personality and strengths as a road map, then set a goal and worked toward it. I identified a career path that I thought would give me the best chance at contentment and found a few mentors who had already worked in that industry. Within six months, I found my THING as a facility manager. In this career field, I can bring my whole self to work, stop compartmentalizing, stop pretending, and stop performing. My new career helps me stay active physically, which is great for me mentally (thanks, Brent), utilizes my top ten strengths (thanks, Jenn), fills my bucket spiritually (thanks, Sean), and matches my personality in such a way that I don't have to force it (thanks, Jake).
I am eternally grateful for my CSG and cannot say enough about it. It was the absolute best investment in time I could have made for myself. The team at CSG is saving lives just by showing up and caring.
Chris T. - U.S. Marine Corps
I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to attend Warrior PATHH. I wish I had found out about the program sooner. I was laying in bed one night scrolling through Facebook when I saw an ad for Camp Southern Ground and Warrior PATHH. What intrigued me the most was reading the questions in the ad. Are you restless and uneasy? Do you feel detached from friends and family? Are you not sure where your life is going? Are you unsure what, if anything, is wrong with you?
I never knew what was wrong with me for the longest time. I knew something wasn't right, though. I had both arms and legs, and all my fingers and toes; I had nothing to complain about. How could I possibly ask for help from the VA or even claim I need help when so many other veterans died or were blown to pieces. I even wrestled with the idea of being a veteran for years after getting out. I didn't want to be a veteran! I wouldn't stand if people asked for all the veterans to stand at a gathering. In my mind, I was still a 28 year old Recon Marine, not a veteran.
After spending 6 years in the Marine Corps, I got out in 2009 and went straight into working overseas as a private security contractor. I never really liked the idea of slowing down and living a "normal" civilian life. After a couple years working overseas, I decided to go home and get a normal job - my idea of a normal job, anyways. I became a cop. I was an adrenaline junky and would not have it any other way. I thought the job was a free ticket to the greatest show on earth, just like the Marine Corps infantry. After about a year, there came a point when the job began taking more from me than I was giving - the free ride was over. I saw and dealt with just about everything: senseless drive-by shootings that killed innocent kids, home invasions, rapes, 6 month olds with cigarette burns, school shootings, suicides, home fires with burned bodies, gory car wrecks, toddlers accidentally hanging themselves from window shades, etc. I lost a piece of my soul on every single call. Just like going to war takes a little piece of your soul with every round you fire, every friend that gets killed or kills themself when they get home, it all takes a piece until there is nothing left. It got to a point where all the smells and visuals from Iraq started to blend with all the bodies and smells I dealt with as a detective. My only remedy was drinking and it had been working for me since my first deployment as a Marine. I drank every bad thought and feeling away until I was numb. It cost me my family. My wife left the house with our two kids and left me a simple one line note saying "You can go to AA and get help with your PTSD or you can live a life without us."
I finally got help and went to AA for my drinking. I also went to a private psychologist who was great but she desperately wanted to connect me to the VA. She interned there in med school and felt the Vet Center could help by connecting me to other vets. I kept telling her that I did not have PTSD. One day she flat out told me, "Your ass has PTSD and you need to stop denying it." She was right, I saw it as a sign of weakness and did everything I could to deny it. I finally started getting connected to the VA and attended regular counseling at the Vet Center near my house. As good as it was, it left me with a lot of mixed feelings and a lack of connection with my family.
Then I found the Facebook ad for Warrior PATHH. I think Warrior PATHH answered so many questions I had about myself. I really had no coping skills (other than drinking) and I had no connection to my family. PATHH really explained why I was the way I was. Why I felt so disconnected. I thought I was a warrior with no purpose and no idea how to come to terms with my new life. PATHH helped me create a new purpose and connect with that sense of purpose. I also learned a lot about Vocational Rehab from my fellow PATHH mates and have been going back to school to get my masters, and the VA is paying for it. I write poetry (it's kind of dark, lol) I play my guitar now, I even volunteer to scoop horse shit out of stalls once in a while. My family and I are connected and happy. Things are not perfect but I have a way of dealing with it through meditation, breathing, calling people, talking, going for a walk and thinking things through. Most importantly, I have learned that it's not what's wrong with me, it's what happened to me.
After I got back from PATHH, my wife gave me a new note with a saying she read while I was gone. "You can be the air traffic controller of your mental airport. You occupy the control tower and can direct the mental traffic of your world."
Lani T. - U.S. Army
This program reminded me of all the things I lost when I became a soldier. I lost my motivation towards music, desire to befriend people; I lost my reason to try. Then y'all MADE me wear my strengths, and as the days went on, YOU all made it easier to believe in me. I've been to many churches around the world, around America, to find myself. I was lost chasing those Stars and Stripes; then this program lit the way. It showed that the flag isn't just Stars and Stripes; there's stitching, too, holding it together. It's often overlooked, it's just a thread, but it's that thread that holds it together. Y'all helped me look beyond the shape and colors of our flag and re-taught me to appreciate each individual strand of fabric to make it.
John M. - U.S. Air Force
The biggest change for me is now being connected again; before, I was distanced from myself and other people. Unable to experience my feelings authentically or feel like I had any real true relationships with others. I admit, it has only been two weeks since I attended PATHH at CSG, yet this change is already flourishing in my mind and spirit. I feel alive and good for the first time in decades. I am building and strengthening my relationships. I still can't put my finger on one thing about PATHH or CSG that triggered this change, some ineffable quality of the guides and place, but I'm different now. I was lost and in the dark. Now I have a light to find my way. Thank you.
Amanda and Steven C., U.S. Marine Corps
We fell in love with CSG before ground even broke on the idea ten years ago. We loved everything about the concept but the reality has been so much better than we imagined. Inclusivity and kindness and the holistic approach to well-being serves everyone and it's especially beneficial for veterans and their families to recognize that they aren't alone. It's been amazing to watch our daughter grow with CSG over the past five years, making lifelong friends and lifelong memories each time she goes.
Sorry, it's hard to say in just a few words. I have worked as an ABA therapist with autistic children for the past decade and have raised two daughters with the USMC as their family. CSG embodies my two passions in one amazing place and I can't say enough good things about it. Throw in good food and good Music and I call it Heaven on Earth.
Rebecca S. - U.S. Army
My first time going to Camp Southern Ground was in 2020, and it was such an amazing experience I can't find the right words to do it justice. When it was time to leave CSG, I suddenly felt filled with emotions and overcome by fear. The feeling was all too familiar; I had found something that made me happy where I felt safe, and I was part of a team and family again, and now I had to get in my car and leave it all behind. I rarely ever cried in my life, but as I was walking to my car, I broke down in a way I never had. I had felt like I knew who I was for the first time in years, and now I was going to lose that safety, trust, hope, passion, purpose, and family I had just found. The staff handled it amazingly. They were so supportive and understanding when I was the most vulnerable. They assured me I wasn't losing anything, and it would be okay. I respected them saying that, but it isn't anything I had not heard before and figured they were just saying that in kindness. After all, everything ends, and I have to deal with it. I have never been so wrong in my life! I have never met a group of people so dedicated to their job, mission, causes, empathy, understanding, nonjudgment, and competence in my whole life; that made me want to fight back to gain control over my own life.
CSG staff was always there for me if I needed additional support, and I couldn't have been happier when I went back in 2021 as a tribe leader. I wasn't abandoned or forgotten; quite the opposite. I was given strength and purpose. CSG not only provides the best program with Warrior Week, but it also takes it a step further with outstanding resources and education. After leaving CSG, I contacted the financial and legal speaker who updated my will, power of attorney (medical and nonmedical), estate planning, and complete financial planning and advice. I also signed up for CreatiVets songwriting program, and we are going to write a song later today! I received assistance in getting into the Shepherd Center military program in Atlanta, Georgia, where I received three months of the best medical care in my life at no cost.
I went to CSG at my weakest: scared, ashamed, depressed, hopeless, and desperate for help but ready to give up. When I left, I had not only made new life-long friends, but I had a better understanding of myself and what I was going through. I was no longer alone because others surrounded me who were going through the exact same thing and wanted help, just like me. I realized that I had not lost myself; I was still a fighter and still surrounded by them. What had changed was the mission, and I had not been given any details on how to fight this new fight until CSG. I can never thank them enough for all they have done and taught me. CSG is full of life and passion unparalleled by any other program. I believe that is due to the staff, both those you see there and those working behind the scenes, to make it all come together.
Kelly Supple - U.S. Army
Camp Southern Ground (CSG) was an amazing experience that helped me articulate my goals and desires for my future in retirement. CSG helped define my attributes and aptitude in different areas. The recreational activities were fun and educational. The staff and volunteers were incredible, from the chef and kitchen staff to the instructors and veteran volunteers. The follow-up activities and communications help keep the learned information fresh and real.
The camp facilities are stunning and were a nice surprise! I think about CSG often and fondly.
Glenn Barber - U.S. Air Force; Air Force Reserve; Army; Navy; Navy Reserve
Through Warrior Week, I was able to find out what my strengths were. By finding my strengths, I was able to use them to help me to be able to communicate with my children in a more intimate way. Because of the changes I have been able to incorporate, I now have an open communication system with my kids. They have been able to come to me about anything bothering them and know that we can discuss it and come up with ideas and solutions to solve their concerns.
Through Warrior Week, I identified what area I was strong in and have been able to use those strengths to do volunteer work with a nonprofit helping veterans with PTSD and transition from military to civilian life. Without Warrior Week, I would not have been able to accomplish any of this. My life and the lives of my children have been changed for the better because of this program.
Bre B. - U.S. Army
Warrior PATHH | Warrior Week
I served during Operation Enduring Freedom and during the Repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. I attended two programs at Camp Southern Ground; Warrior PATHH (April 2021) and Warrior Week (September 2021) where each program provided different elements to my healing and personal growth.
In attending Warrior PATHH, I was able to look within myself and address the behavior I was portraying as a result of my trauma during service. As a survivor of military sexual trauma (MST) my life trajectory has changed and I have often found life unbearable. Warrior PATHH allowed me to realize my self worth and the support I have. It provided me the tools to communicate with my family where I now have a stronger relationship with my father. Jack Gafford is an amazing person who spent time talking to me about how to repair my relationship with my father. The time at Warrior PATHH was also a time where it helped me get in touch with my creative side where I am now doing art work with origami and glass blowing. It is meaningful for me for I have always wanted to spend the time tapping into my creativity. The camp fire talks I had with Brent Taylor helped me explore what interests were more meaningful for me.
By attending Warrior Week, I was able to look inward personally and explore through the enneagram how I respond to certain situations and how I can be more mindful in situations. I found the program to be beneficial in terms of team building and getting to know other people's perspectives. Jakes Dukes, spent time following up with me from my time in Warrior Path by checking in to make sure that I had a ride to the grounds when I arrived at a different location, Jake shared his experiences with enneagram where I was able to reflect on my own. Darrick Marchant connected with me and helped me set up my professional photo where I was able to work on my LinkedIn profile. This helped push me to fix up my LinkedIn profile and re-do my resume. In discussing interviews with Jenn Selke, I was able to incorporate our discussion about being specific in terms of my work experience during interviews. The check in with her helped me go deeper into my value to prepare for a performance based interview where I applied to a job I was interested in that was different from what I am currently doing. The result is that I just recently accepted a position at the Veterans Benefits Administration processing disability claims in Chicago, Illinois.
My time at Camp Southern Ground has been life changing personally and now professionally. I am thankful for the time I spent there and the people I met. They have invited me into the space where I was able to share about my experiences as a Queer person openly and engage in whole hearted conversations. Thank you for a memorable experience.