Making Angel Fire a magnet for veterans

The Sept. 18 American Flag Arch. (Photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
The Sept. 18 American Flag Arch. (Photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)

The final 2016 week-long retreat for veterans, active duty military, reservists who have been diagnosed with PTS (post traumatic stress) — along with their significant others — kicks off with the American Flag Arch Welcome Ceremony 4:30 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 2) at The Lodge at Angel Fire Resort.

Chuck Howe speaking at the annual Memorial Day ceremony in Angel Fire. (Chronicle file photo)
Chuck Howe speaking at the annual Memorial Day ceremony in Angel Fire. (Chronicle file photo)

For Chuck Howe, founder of the National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center of Angel Fire, this 23rd retreat takes Angel Fire one step closer to achieving his vision for the community as a destination for veterans in need of healing.

Howe is a veteran himself, having served 23 years as an Army officer before retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He served in Vietnam, Korea, Germany and throughout the United States, first as an officer, then with military intelligence.

His wife Connie (neé Sapian) was born and raised in Cimarron so, when it came time to settle down, the couple moved to Angel Fire in 2004. He joined the village council in 2006 then, in late 2008, Chuck says, “I met John Garcia [Cabinet Secretary for the New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Services and a past president of the National Association of State Directors of Veterans’ Affairs (NASDVA)]. He told me about this dream he had to have a veterans’ healing center in the Jemez Mountains. Being the smart mouth that I am, I told him he had the right idea, just the wrong place!”

Chuck gives a small laugh, then pauses to help a customer who has come into the Angel Fire Visitor Center inquiring about hiking. He shares maps and knowledge then tells the visitor about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park in town. Par for the course for this dedicated volunteer who frequently keeps office hours at the visitor center.

After his encounter with John Garcia, Chuck says, “I came back to Angel Fire and ended up finding Dr. Michael Wagner who (along with his brother Tom) had been doing these retreats in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I brought them here and they did the first retreat in 2009. We got our 501(c) 3 status that year. After that we started doing them with our own staff. [A group of volunteers from Angel Fire and other communities.]

“We’re close to that original model in every way except for what we call experimental education. We kept the Native American healing and ceremonies and the alternative modalities like acupuncture, massage, reiki, music, art and equine therapy, yoga… but with the experimental education, we basically provide tools to the veterans and their spouses to deal with post traumatic stress. For example, if something triggers you, we give you a tool to come back down.

Chuck Howe with Vietnam Veteran George McClintock (Chronicle file photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
Chuck Howe with spring 2016 retreat attendee and Vietnam Veteran George McClintock (Chronicle file photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)

“We help them deal with moral wounding or injury and relationships and relationship rebuilding. It does no good to provide healing at a veterans’ retreat and then let them go home to a spouse who has as much PTS as the veteran did. Spousal healing is as important as the veterans’ healing. Totally.”

This is one reason why, in addition to requiring that attendees be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress, every attendee “must attend with partner or support person (spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, sibling, close friend, fellow vet from PTS support group, or similar existing and continuing close relationship)” according to the retreat website.

Asked to define moral wounding, Howe describes it as “the terrible consequences of making terrible moral moral choices… or the guilt of surviving. Say you see a woman walking carrying a bag and holding a child’s hand while a convoy is approaching and you shoot her and she’s innocent or you don’t shoot her and she blows up the convoy.”

It is those types of terrible injury, acts, “which shatter moral and ethical expectations” (according to the National Center for PTSD), that the Angel Fire retreats hope to help heal.

Memorial Day services at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park. (Chronicle file photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
Memorial Day services at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park. (Chronicle file photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)

For Chuck, providing such healing is only the beginning. His goals are more far reaching — and they are natural for a community that is home to first major Vietnam memorial in the United States. Soon Angel Fire, along with other rural communities in New Mexico, will be home to a veterans’ cemetery.

A pet project of Gov. Susana Martinez, several cemeteries are being built in the rural communities of Angel Fire, Gallup, Fort Stanton and Carlsbad. (The State Veterans’ Cemetery Program is managed by Thomas Wagner.)

“I’m guessing 2018 is the earliest that they’ll start construction,” Howe said, noting that Fort Stanton and Gallup’s cemeteries are already being built.

With the retreats well under way and an annual Military Winterfest approaching its third year, Howe has set his sights on a new memorial to be built across the road on the north side of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park.

“I want to build a ‘War On Terror Memorial’ for veterans of very conflict since Vietnam because the people fighting this conflict are the sons and daughter and grandsons and granddaughters of Vietnam Veterans,” Howe says. “I want to build a (permanent) Veterans Wellness and Healing Center next to that and, eventually, a small hotel with military preference for veterans on Highway 64. I’m just really getting started on it.”

At this writing, the National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center of Angel Fire board of directors was planning to launch a capital campaign in the hopes of getting the permanent facility off the ground. See

Helping Veterans Come Home To A Life Changing Experience

Military Winterfest kicks off Feb. 9

The 3rd Annual Military Winterfest, hosted and organized by the National Veterans Wellness & Healing Center Angel Fire, offers four days of snow-filled fun, live entertainment, food and exclusive military discounts. Activities include skiing, snowboarding (including Adaptive Ski Programs for vets with disabilities), sleigh rides, tubing, snowshoeing, family and non-skier activities. See facebook.com/MilitaryWinterfest.

Visitors look forward to Retired Army Golden Knight, Double Amputee Dana Bowman's American Flag Jump-in. (Chronicle file photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)
Visitors look forward to Retired Army Golden Knight, Double Amputee Dana Bowman’s American Flag Jump-in at Military Winterfest. (Chronicle file photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)

Sept. 18 American Flag Arch

Angel Fire Cemetery groundbreaking ceremony planned Oct. 26

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