James Ferguson served as an active-duty Marine Officer for more than six years, a career in service that included a perilous seven-month deployment in Kajaki, Afghanistan in 2010. There, he led a unit of Marines conducting offensive operations against a numerically superior, well-entrenched force of Taliban and Al-Qaeda-aligned fighters. Out of his unit’s 120 Marines, five were killed in action and 32 received Purple Hearts.
Though deployment bonded his unit together, returning to the states sent them separate ways, back to jobs, families, friends and communities that could not understand their experience. They faced new battles of reintegration and post-traumatic stress, including James.
“Even though I was back at home and moving forward with the next phase of my life, I felt disconnected,” James says. “I came to realize that, overseas or not, I still needed my unit. They were the only ones who really understood what I had gone through and what I was going through now.”
Five years after their tour in Afghanistan, James held a reunion for his unit and the Gold Star families of those they lost. The reconnection to each other and to their community made all of them feel stronger and supported. Seeing that impact inspired James to make the same connections and experiences possible for other military units and led him to found his organization, Warrior Reunion Foundation, in 2017.
Warrior Reunion Foundation supports combat veterans in their post-military journeys by reconnecting military units via life-changing reunion experiences. All Warrior Reunion Foundation events welcome Gold Star Families of those killed in action as part of the community and are always provided at no cost to those who attend.
“It’s all about taking the support and strength units share during combat and helping them reinvigorate that and bring it into the next chapter of their journey after they return home,” says James.
Every event is built around three key pillars: camaraderie, wellness and community service. Reunions can include everything from physical activities, supportive resource briefings, social hours to bond over shared experiences, memorials for members killed in action and more. All experiences feature a service project to remind attendees of their purpose and renew their call to service while working together as a unit. The organization also works closely with unit leaders to plan the event, customizing the activities based on the unique needs and combat experience of their members.
Warrior Reunion Foundation has reunited more than 1,500 combat veterans and Gold Star families across 28 reunion events, with an already growing list of events for 2022. And they’re changing lives: nearly all attendees have shared post-reunion that the event strengthened their social connections with their military family. Nearly as many also said that they felt more confident in reaching out to their fellow veterans for support, roughly double the amount that had said so before the event.
But the true impact is often far more intangible. As one attendee shared, “We remember who we were and hold on to that memory as we determine who we will be. We are together. And together we are strong.”