KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The sounds of the battlefield are often triggers for the post-traumatic stress disorder that veterans bring back home after their service.
A Kansas City man, who isn’t a veteran himself, wants to provide a place for veterans struggling to escape that burden – at least for a little while.
At Hickory Hills Veterans Lodge, it gets pretty loud. Veterans are welcome to bring their own firearms and shoot with their fellow warriors.
Sometimes, combating PTSD isn’t a quiet thing.
“If I’m out here somewhere, and I hear a door slam behind me, or a firecracker, I will jump,” said Vietnam veteran Chuck Bradbury. “Here, I know what's going on.”
“I feel safer with a bunch of vets with guns on the back of a tailgate, than I would at a public range, that I don't know anything about their training,” said Chris Wolfenbarger, a veteran who worked as a combat medic in Afghanistan.
But Hickory Hills Veterans Lodge is more than just a makeshift shooting range.
“I worked a year and two months building this,” said Orin Jackson, who founded the lodge. “Everything had to be trucked up from KC.”
Jackson spent decades as a builder in Kansas City and wanted to use that experience to build this place, mostly with the help of just a few people, to be whatever these vets need it to be.
“We have all the handicap access grab bars for the veterans who need it,” Jackson said. “I had over 40 companies that donated the materials to build this center.”
He invites veterans, free of charge, to this remote spot in northern Missouri. Specifically, he invites them to a small table in the center of the main room.
“Ever been in a car trying to get on the highway, and your car won't get in the right gear, and it's just shaking? That shaking is your family dealing with your PTSD, because you can't shift into the right gear,” said Wolfenbarger.
Away from the city and from their families, talking gets easier gathered around that table.
“Vietnam came back in my 60s,” Bradbury said. “I had it bottled up for over 40 years, never said anything.”
“I'm screwed up, and it's OK to be screwed up in our little clique,” said Donald Ballard, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner and supporter of Hickory Hills.
“Every once in a while, you can strike up a conversation, or pick up an old one,” said Dan Kellogg, a Desert Storm veteran. “It just gives you something else to focus on.”
They talk while they fish, or while they shoot, and when they go home, their loved ones can feel a difference.
“The phone calls that are most meaningful is when the wife calls and says ‘You just gave me my husband back,’” Wolfenbarger said.
In the background of all of these moments, you'll find Jackson, often with a big smile on his face, clearly proud that he has a way to say thank you.
“I asked myself what I could do, and this is what I came up with,” Jackson said. “It's very fulfilling for me to do what I do.”
Any veteran in the Kansas City area is welcome to visit Hickory Hills Veterans Lodge. For more information on how to do that, or how to donate to the lodge, visit the lodge's website.