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Heroes and Horses allows combat vets to reidentify themselves
DALLAS – The sounds are horrific, the scenes unimaginable to most.
But combat veterans have experienced them: the explosions, the gunfire, the unforgettable screams. It can be an everyday experience for many, and that reality doesn’t disappear once the men and women leave the front line.
The crew of Pete Carr Pro Rodeo is teaming up with Heroes and Horses, a program that was established three and a half years ago by former Navy SEAL Micah Fink. Heroes and Horses allows vets to reidentify their purpose in life now that they are no longer in the high intensity of combat.
“We have a three-phase program that is very challenging and gives these veterans a lot of ownership and responsibility,” Fink said. “We’re helping these guys find what they had lost. We are here to keep them moving forward with experience and challenges in the wheelhouse of the equine industry.”
In the first phase, participants travel to Montana, where they attend the Heroes and Horses Training Camp for five days of instruction on horsemanship, riding and pack training. Upon completion, the expedition team embarks on a seven-day progressive pack trip through rugged and remote wilderness. The training then progresses them toward Phase Two.
“I think what happens to these guys is that they’ve been living in a super high-pressure situation with a lot of intensity,” Fink said. “When they come back home, they’re looking for an identity; what happens a lot of time is that instead of working on who you are, we’re perpetually going to other people to have them tell us what we should do.
“Guys are afraid of who they are in post-military life. The knowledge to move forward in our lives is to exist in our obstacle, our challenge. It’s a choice to persevere and become self-sufficient. This program is about challenging these guys, being really authentic and really learn about themselves.”
The second phase allows the participants to return to base camp and apply what they have learned. Every aspect of training is advanced, and this phase culminates in a 10-day expedition through high altitudes. They will practice the acquired survival skills while working in small teams.
The third level has the participants utilizing the skills they have acquired through the first two phases into a real working environment.
The Carr crew is involved in Phase Three and will be matched with Brian Sengbusch, a retired sergeant major with 31 years of military service; he was involved in Delta Force and special operations, both of which require a high level of training and military expertise.
“We’re excited to have Brian jump in and be part of our team; this is a very small thing that we can all do for these guys that have fought and defended our country for us every day and night,” said Pete Carr, owner of the livestock firm. “They put their lives on the line for the rest of us, so we can enjoy the freedom of putting on rodeos and living in the United States of America.
“It’s also perfect timing for our team. We’re having our annual colt bucking on Sept. 9 at the ranch in Athens (Texas), and he will get to be part of that. He will have a chance to get familiar with the team and get some insights on what he’s going to experience in the next five weeks during the final four rodeos to complete the 2017 season.”
Sengbusch will be part of the Pete Carr Pro Rodeo team on the road during the final stretch, which will allow him the opportunity to see the stock in action. He will also experience the logistics associated with all the different venues and locations. As well as transportation of horses, bulls, steers and calves to and from these rodeos and back to the ranch.
“Our entire company is extremely honored to be part of Brian’s journey to his new beginning and getting acclimated to normal daily life in the states again,” Carr said. “Being in high-pressure situations in combat for 30 years, we know it’s going to take some time. I’m just excited that we’ve been selected to be a small part of his journey back.”
It’s been quite a journey for Sengbusch. He signed up for the U.S. Army on his 18th birthday and began his work two weeks after graduating high school. He initially retired on Sept. 1, 2001, after many years of distinguished service.
“That was a bad day to retire,” he said, referring to the terrorist attacks that came 10 days later. “I was called back in. A friend was the Sergeant Major of the Army, and it was my duty to take a battalion into Bagdad (Iraq).”
His official retirement occurred six years later on Jan. 5, 2008.
“I spent most of my career on a one-hour recall,” Sengbusch said. “You don’t get to do anything and don’t have much for relationships. I didn’t get married until I retired, and that only lasted eight years.
“I went from being in charge of 1,200 guys in a combat zone to being in charge of my wife and a dog; my dog is dead, and my wife divorced me.
Through Heroes and Horses, he’s found a responsibility involving horses. That’s the brilliance behind the program. The main page of the website offers a simple hashtag: #NotAVacation. It’s the perfect kind of training for combat veterans, who have experienced such high-pressure situations.
Fink spent more than 1,100 days deployed and is still an active Reservist and Navy SEAL. He believes instead of getting a hand out, combat vets deserve an identity. Instead of being a professional veteran and being entitled to what others provide, Fink wants these soldiers, sailors, SEALS and Marines to realize their worth through the work they do through the program.
“The greater the struggles, the greater the value,” Fink said. “Veterans don’t need a job; they need a purpose. They need to figure out who they are again. I use the high-pressure medium of horses and challenges to give more obstacles. Obstacles teach us about ourselves. I love putting people through this process, because it’s so raw. At the end of the day, they come to the conclusions on their own.”
Sengbusch has been coming to those conclusions. For much of his career, he was in charge of many men. He has led them into battle, and most of them returned home safely after their service had ended. They weren’t just soldiers; they were his kids. It’s that fatherly appeal that was the driving force behind everything Sengbusch did.
“My kids got to me on Facebook and thanked me for helping them out and being there,” he said. “I had never lost anybody in combat until this last deployment, and I lost 12 kids, so that was kind of a shock for me. I’ve always been able to bring my kids home, and this was the first time I haven’t.”
That’s tough, but so is the retired sergeant major. Now 58 years old, he understands what it takes to rebound from tough losses.
“With this program, you’re not going there to be coddled,” Sengbusch said. “You’ve got to buck up. In some ways, it’s a gut check. In other ways, it’s a training experience.
“I still have rough days. You remember what the next goal is, then you just go on to the next goal. You don’t care how your body feels or what obstacles are in the way. It was good to have Sinbad, the horse I used in this. He was my horse. If it didn’t faze him, it shouldn’t faze me.”
Spoken like a true American hero.