FARMINGTON — Ten soldiers from Colorado, Texas and New Mexico assembled on Thursday for a week-long tour of the Four Corners that included fly-fishing, Jeep rock-crawling and Connie Mack World Series baseball.
Now in its third year, the Wounded Warrior Extreme Adventure of the Four Corners is the brainchild of Bill Simpkins, a veteran and member of the men's ministry outreach program at Cross Roads Community Church in Farmington.
"This is all about these warriors who have sacrificed a lot," Simpkins said at the church on Thursday after he and others picked up participating veterans who flew in for orientation and ice cream floats before some took in a Connie Mack game at Ricketts Park. "It's all about them having fun."
Vietnam War veteran Douglas Miller welcomed the warriors at the church. He brought 12 quilts in an array of patriotic colors and patterns that his wife, Pat Miller, made for the visiting veterans, something she has done for years for veterans at a post-traumatic stress disorder clinic in Denver, Colo.
"My wife is very patriotic, and we have lots of family members in the military," Miller said. "When we learned about Bill's group, she wanted to make quilts for them, too."
On Friday, Simpkins brought this year's group to Tommy Bolack's B-Square Ranch and Museum of Fish and Wildlife before they threw out the first pitch at Friday's Connie Mack World Series game.
Pete Benavidez lives in Belen and was excited to take part in the week-long adventure. Retired from injuries sustained in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2005 as a sergeant first class in the U.S. Army, Benavidez said everyday activities he once took for granted now slow him down, like getting dressed and driving a car. He said he can no longer write or type and uses dictation software to compose letters.
"The people here in Farmington have been really good to us, really nice," Benavidez said. "I like to travel to new places. My bucket list is to see every state and every territory in the United States before I die."
Simpkins said his idea to treat wounded veterans to a week of adventure in the area draws support from Cross Roads Church, but each year, individuals, groups and businesses also donate money, meals, hotel rooms and airline tickets.
Last year, Army Cpl. Hope Clark from El Paso, Texas, took part in the Wounded Warriors adventure and wanted try Jeep rock crawling, but neck and back pain from a rocket-propelled grenade explosion during a tour in Afghanistan in 2011 left her unable to participate.
She returned this year for the weekend and stayed at the home of Farmington couple BJ and Joe Brown, who she met last year. The couple invited her back on the condition she bring her own Jeep for a special surprise. The Browns own a fabrication business and surprised Clark on Friday by detailing and fixing up her old vehicle while she rested at their home.
"We met Hope last year rock crawling, and she got in my Jeep, and she said, 'Oh my gosh, I love your Jeep.' We thought we'd invite her back and sort of pimp her ride a little, so she can rock crawl with everybody in a new snazzy Jeep," BJ Brown said. "A lot of people went in on this and helped out to really make it special for her."
Clark, who is two classes away from a degree as a medical assistant, was glad to be back before returning home for classes this morning.
"It's a great experience," she said of last year's adventure.
She was excited to take her newly enhanced car rock crawling Saturday morning, adding, "It's going to be awesome."
Also participating in the week's activities is Mark White, who grew up in Pittsfield, Mass., and now lives in Aztec. He was medically retired from the Army after injuries to his neck and spine from explosives during his deployment to Kirkuk, Iraq.
"They told me before my second deployment that I wasn't going back. I fought them for 18 months, but that was it," White said.
On Friday, he took in the more than 2,000 stuffed animals on display at B-Square Ranch. White, who walks with a cane, found yard-long peacock feathers on the grounds at the ranch and planned to bring them to his daughters.
"Fly-fishing is what I'm looking forward to," White said. "After years of shoveling snow on the East Coast, I live in Aztec, the weather here being a big difference. The people are good, too."