After 5 days of camping in and exploring the vast and magnificent Yosemite National Park, the Sheep Dog Impact Assistance (SDIA) group was tired, but refreshed and invigorated by their experiences. As special guests of the National Park Service as they celebrate their 100th anniversary, the 60+ Sheep Dogs and family members who participated in this Outdoor Adventure were treated to upgraded camp sites, a special tour, and the opportunity to discover all this incredible park has to offer.
From May 29 through June 2, SDIA guests visited Tuolumne Meadows, swam at snow melt Tenaya Lake, summited waterfall peaks, and hiked and explored the meadows, ponds, rivers and mountains surrounding them. A highlight for many was the private guided tram-ride tour of Yosemite Valley by the Park Rangers; during the tour, Rangers thanked our sponsored Sheep Dogs for their service and for honoring the Park by spending Memorial Day week in Yosemite.
For all who were there, being unplugged from technology, reconnecting with fellow Sheep Dogs and family members, and making incredible memories inside the breathtaking walls of Yosemite National Park provided much needed rest, relaxation and fun. For the 35 sponsored combat wounded military and first responders injured in the line of duty, this Outdoor Adventure allowed them an opportunity to leave behind the worries of home for a few days and push themselves to conquer new challenges that tested their rehabilitation skills, and restored independence and self confidence.
Charles Neill, a Lieutenant with the Oologah (OK) Police Department, was one sponsored Sheep Dog. During a high speed pursuit last year, Lt. Neill was shot in the head and rolled his patrol vehicle several times at 110 mph. He continues his recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), bulging disks in his neck and back, and nerve damage in both arms. But all his struggles took a backseat during the Yosemite adventure. “Two of my favorite moments of the trip were completing hikes that I never thought I would be able to finish. As a team, we encouraged each other to reach the top of Glacier Point, then a day later, the Panoramic Trail. The two trails are in the top 3 hardest trails at Yosemite.”
“But the best part of the trip,” Lt. Neill added, “was spending time and reconnecting with my 12-year-old son.”
U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Aaron Mankin couldn’t agree more. “I was given an opportunity to experience one of our Nation’s natural treasures with my 7-year-old son, Hunter. We were both blessed with making memories we won’t soon forget…like taking my son rafting for the first time. The whole trip was a huge bonding experience for us.”
While reconnecting with family was important, the opportunity for those wounded in combat or the line of duty to reengage in life surrounded by fellow Sheep Dogs is one of the highest priorities of SDIA’s Outdoor Adventures. These adventures remind them that no matter their injuries, they are still Sheep Dogs and there is much they can do to continue making a difference in their communities and for their country.
“Sheep Dog Impact Assistance gave me the chance to exercise a part of myself that these days is often left dormant – the part of me that is proud to be a Marine around other service members,” said Cpl Mankin, who was wounded during an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack near the Syrian border in 2005. Six Marines were lost in the attack, and Mankin walked away with 2nd and 3rd degree burns to his hands, arms and face. Being with fellow Sheep Dogs turned things around for him. “The healing is so organic that you don’t even realize it’s happening. That’s the beauty of surrounding myself with Sheep Dogs…I realized once again that I am a Sheep Dog. For life.”
This incredible Outdoor Adventure could not have happened without the hard work of our volunteers and the contributions of our supporters.
To all the individuals who contributed to and/or sponsored Sheep Dogs for this trip, whether by attending the Charity Ball or winning an auction item, direct donation or other support, THANK YOU – you made this trip possible. (FYI-A majority of the funding needed for the Yosemite Adventure came from SDIA’s Charity Ball in April; over $25,000 was raised and used to sponsor the 35 Sheep Dogs!)
And last, but definitely not least, a very special THANK YOU goes out to Yosemite National Park and their Park Rangers for accommodating our stay over the holiday week and providing us with an unforgettable experience.
THANK YOU ALL for believing in our mission to engage, assist and empower our nation’s Military, Law Enforcement, Fire & Rescue, and EMS personnel – our Sheep Dogs – through incredible opportunities like this Yosemite Adventure. We truly could not do it without you.
To view photos from the Yosemite Outdoor Adventure, please visit our Facebook Album.