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West Kentucky Nonprofit Hosting Music Festival To Fund Nature Retreats For Veterans

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Sydni Anderson
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A west Kentucky nonprofit is raising money to fund nature retreats for veterans with combat PTSD and stress.

Jeremy Wallace is the founder of A Soldier’s Heart Bluegrass and Muddy Waters. Wallace is a combat veteran himself with PTSD and deployed to Iraq from 2006 to 2007.

“We had a 15 month deployment there. We were in convoy escorts, combat patrols and we lost one guy overseas from our unit. But then after we’ve deployed back home we’ve lost four to suicide just from our unit...I figured it was time to do something,” he said.

He came up with the idea when he went on a Wounded Warrior retreat, where Wallace said he met a retired Navy SEAL who owns an old church camp in Frankfort. Wallace said he founded A Soldier’s Heart Bluegrass and Muddy Waters soon after. The organization hosted its first retreat in early 2016 in Frankfort.

 

Wallace said there’s not a lot in the region for veterans. He said there’s Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars, but other areas in the state have veteran’s centers and offer peer support. Wallace said A Soldier’s Heart Bluegrass and Muddy Waters is open to local veterans and those from different areas. 

 

“We’ve had people from West Virginia, Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois--from the surrounding states, we’ve had veterans at our retreats,” he said.  

 

Wallace said the nonprofit aims to introduce veterans to different therapeutic modalities that are “out of the box.”

“What we do is generally we’ll have canoeing and kayaking as part of it. And then we’ll also bring in different modalities of therapy like guided meditation, yoga and acupuncture. We’ve done equine therapy, music therapy, art therapy and things like that.”

 

Wallace said the last retreat took place a couple of weeks ago at Camp Brownbear with 11 veterans. He said retreats will typically begin on a Friday, with veterans taking time to eat, talk and sit around the campfire. Saturdays include work on a camp project--which is usually a team-building activity--and experiences with therapeutic modalities, like yoga. He said during this past retreat, veterans went kayaking on Elkhorn Creek on Sunday.

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Credit A Soldier's Heart Bluegrass and Muddy Waters via Facebook
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Wallace said he established the organization as a non-profit so they could fundraise to support their mission of providing an outlet for veterans.

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Credit A Soldier's Heart Bluegrass and Muddy Waters via Facebook
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Wallace said 20 artists and bands will perform at the fundraiser starting at 5 p.m. on Friday and noon on Saturday. The Pickin’ On A Soldier’s Heart outdoor music festival will be hosted at the Dam Brewhaus at 1894 US Highway 641 N. in Benton. People need to social distance and bring their own lawn chair. Wallace said Amazin' Blaze Bar-B-Que truck will be at the event. Five musicians will perform on Friday and the remaining 15 on Saturday.

“I think everybody will find it will be a good time and we’ll try to keep everybody safe.”

Wallace said the organization has three more retreats lined up. Their next retreat is Oct. 16 through the 19. He said retreats will occur every four to six weeks and their last retreat was the first one since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wallace said the non-profit has re-evaluated how they do the retreats amid the pandemic. He said they used to just stay in one cabin.

“Now we have five cabins so we can spread people out and socially distance and still be able to effectively do our retreats,” he said. 

Wes Teckenbrock is a veteran who grew up in Benton. Teckenbrock said he was enrolled at Murray State University when the September 11, 2001 attacks occurred. He said he’d always had an urge to join the military and almost did right out of high school. 

“After September 11, it kind of made my mind up for me so I joined the Marines shortly after that and I went to bootcamp in March 2002 and was deployed four different times in the almost five years that I was in. I was deployed to Africa, Cuba, Afghanistan and Iraq,” Teckenbrock said. 

He said once he got out of the military, he didn’t really have anywhere to go. He said he finished school in Louisville and returned home to Benton. 

“When I moved back down here, it wasn’t very long after that that I went to my first Soldier's Heart meetup. It was a Ruck March and I met Jeremy and I was really excited to see that someone was doing something like this in this area,” he said. 

Teckenbrock said the toughest part in helping with the organization is reaching out and finding people who need it.

“A lot of times, veterans are comfortable sitting in their living room, in their safe space. The hard part is getting them out,” he said.

Teckenbrock said he found out about the organization in 2016 through word-of-mouth. He said it’s changed his life.

“You kind of get pent up and feelings are easy to push down sometimes. You don’t really realize they're affecting you. Sometimes you may be under a little more pressure than you need to be because you haven’t been out. You haven’t been able to tell the story,” he said. “Guys, you know, they can laugh about it and relate to it...When you come back from these retreats you just feel so much lighter.”

He said he met a retired Navy SEAL through the organization who actually served on the same base on the Syrian border of Iraq at the same time as Teckenbrock.

“Of all the places to be, we were both there. We didn’t know each other but years later, we’re sitting around the campfire telling stories,” he said.

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Credit A Soldier's Heart Bluegrass and Muddy Waters via Facebook
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Teckenbrock said he’s made life-long friendships with Wallace and many others through A Soldier’s Heart.

“If you’re a veteran and you’re looking for an outlet...If you’re missing something in your life then you never know where you’re going to find it. Come out here with us and we may be able to fill a little bit of that hole for you.”

Wallace said people who want to help out and veterans interested in A Soldier’s Heart Bluegrass and Muddy Waters may contact him at 618-638-2146 or bluegrassandmuddywaters@gmail.com.