For military families, service life can be difficult.
Loved ones are frequently away from their families for extended periods of time.
For families of wounded warriors, life can be especially difficult with days, weeks, months and sometimes years spent in and out of the hospital.
With the opening of Boulder Crest Retreat Sept. 6 in Bluemont, military families will be able to spend time in a quiet place together without worry.
The product of founder Ken Falke and his wife, Julia, Boulder Crest is on 37 acres of land situated in the wooded hills of Bluemont. It was built strictly for wounded warriors, their families and Gold Star families -- those who have lost a family member in war.
The retreat is the first of its kind in the nation.
First proposed in October 2011 by Ken Falke, a retired U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal expert and master chief petty officer, the project turned into one his entire family could get involved in, including his two daughters, Genna Keller and Rhian Falke.
As the daughters of a U.S. Navy sailor, the sisters realized the retreat needed a playground for the children.
“My sister and I did the playground because growing up on military bases everywhere, we always had that central hub playground on base,” Keller said. “My dad said in his speech that kids are not really with their father or [mother] very often because they are gone so much. When my father was on active duty, that was where we always wanted to go with him when he came home.”
With such memories of their time as youngsters playing with their father on the playground, Keller and her younger sister took it upon themselves to raise the necessary funding for a playground at Boulder Crest.
To start, the girls took to Facebook, speaking with old friends from high school and college and educating them on the cause.
“We had some of our friends donating up to $100 for the playground and these are college kids who don't have a lot of money and they saw what this retreat was and my parents' mission behind it, it inspired them to donate,” Keller said. “Robert Duvall donated $10,000 out of the $35,000 we had to raise. We have had some really great people behind the playground specifically, but the whole project has had so many supporters.”
While she played a major role in getting the funding for the playground, the sisters also helped with other aspects of the retreat.
Although her sister was away at school for much of the first year of the project, Keller was living with her parents at the time and was able help with the fine details of each of the cabins.
“We would host some of the wounded warriors out here at my parents house on weekends, so we would load them up in a car and bring them down here and have them go into the showers with their wheelchairs and say 'OK this opening is not wide enough,'” Keller said. “We were able to find out these things early in the stages of building versus them walking in now and saying, 'hey I can't get in here' so we were able to catch those kinds of things early.”
The retreat consists of four 1,600-square-foot cabins with three bedrooms and two bathrooms in each. Each cabin is ADA-accessible with furniture tailored for easy accessibility for disabled veterans.
Michael Dignam, president of PAE Inc. a government contractor out of Arlington, sits on the Board of Boulder Crest Retreat and contributed $100,000 over five years for the facility's maintenance garage, as well as provided salaries for the day-to-day operations team at the retreat.
The retreat, Dignam said, gives wounded warriors the chance to feel like they're home with their families.
“You have these service members at Walter Reed for months, if not years, and especially the amputees and people with serious injuries, they are young servicemen with their whole lives ahead of them,” Dignam said. “A lot of our service people are from rural America, so sitting in Bethesda is uncomfortable to begin with, because that is not how they grew up. Providing them a setting that reminds them of home and gives them an opportunity to work those things out in a peaceful environment with their families is pretty special.”
At Boulder Crest, military families can enjoy an archery range, nature trails, a fishing pond, a playground, a bird sanctuary and lodge.
Life skills seminars as well as yoga and meditation classes and photography are also available activities for soldiers.
Families staying at Boulder Crest can also participate in nearby swimming, kayaking, biking, golfing, horseback riding and hiking.
“To see it all finally come together is so amazing. Just to have all these people here and be able to experience the retreat is great,” Keller said. “For us, when we lived with my parents we lived right at the top of the hill so we were able to come down on our four-wheelers and see the cabins groundbreaking and going up, so now to see it today it is an amazing feeling to see it come together.”
For past coverage, see: Retreat for wounded warriors to move forward
Wounded Warrior retreat offers solace after war
Wounded Warriors retreat receives donation from Winchester company