‘Helping those who served together, heal together’
Exceptional warriors find hope, fulfillment with The F.E.W. adventures
When three exceptional warriors from different military branches joined together in North Dakota last weekend to hunt ducks with The Foundation for Exceptional Warriors organization, not only was it an outdoor adventure but a time for camaraderie.
The group, along with Daniel Haff, a foundation associate from Minot, and Ronny Sweger, the foundation’s co-founder and executive director from Bixby, Okla., hunted in the Forman area in Sargent County in southeastern North Dakota. Haff and Sweger also are exceptional warriors.
The Foundation for Exceptional Warriors, also known as The F.E.W., is a nonprofit organization that uses adventure to unite exceptional warriors who served in the military and to promote healing at no cost to these veterans.
Exceptional warriors include Special Operations Forces, Ex-Prisoners of War, Purple Heart recipients and those recognized for valor from every era, any conflict. The F.E.W. is open to a person of any gender who meets the organization’s criteria
“It’s usually small groups (no more than five or six exceptional warriors),” said Haff of the adventure outings. He said this way it is easier for those participating to visit and form relationships.
A Purple Heart recipient who was wounded in Afghanistan, Haff retired from the Army in 2008.
He said an adventure of The F.E.W. is not the most important part of an outing.
“In fact, we’ve been on several events where we didn’t catch that many fish or shoot that many ducks. It doesn’t matter. It’s getting together with people that know you – sometimes without knowing you – but you’ve been through the same thing. You’ve been through the same action and trauma that combat has to offer. I and most other guys kind of figure out after the fact how isolated that they felt and maybe not even realize it,” he said.
He said participants at The F.E.W. events have told him later that it is life changing for them. “They started feeling like they weren’t alone anymore,,” he said. He said especially in combat arms and special forces, it’s all team-based. “Without a team you fail. Without a mission you don’t have anything. When you get out, all of a sudden you don’t have those things again,” he said.
Those who served in Special Forces and others who risked their lives, earning an award for valor are finding hope and fulfillment with The Foundation for Exceptional Warriors’ adventures.
“The F.E.W. was founded in 2012 by two former Green Berets,” said Haff. “They wanted to serve those that were in the Special Operations community and those in other units, combat especially, that had been decorated for valor – wounded in action, Purple Heart or somebody that was former POW.”
The organization is based in Bixby, Okla., where co-founder Sweger and his family live.
“There are no paid positions in the organization. Everybody that runs it volunteers all of their time,” Haff said.
Haff got involved with the organization after a friend from Ohio he had served with in combat contacted him in 2015. His friend said he had just got involved with “an awesome organization” and urged Haff to take part in one of its events. Haff and his friend attended a pheasant hunt with several other exceptional warriors at a working ranch in South Dakota.
“We got to reunite in a completely isolated zone just together with our fellow combat veterans. Honestly, it was one of the best experiences I have had since I got out of the military,” Haff said. Haff’s friend urged him to get involved in the organization.
Haff is originally from Michigan. His wife, Sarah Rhoads Haff, is originally from Berthold. They have been in Minot since 2009. He and two other partners opened Souris River Brewing in Minot in 2012. When Haff sold his interests in Souris River Brewing, he decided to devote his time to The F.E.W. and began volunteering for it in fall 2016.
Haff and the other The F.E.W. associates are involved in fundraising, finding exceptional warriors and encouraging those who are qualified under the organization’s charter to apply. Associates also find sponsors or donors for the events and help organize and lead the events. Haff has traveled to other states to help with events.
Haff said he focuses on North Dakota as much as possible as other associates do for their areas of the country.
He said most of the associates are defined as exceptional warriors or veterans themselves. “Almost all of them are retired or if not, they do this on their free time. Nobody gets a pay check all the way up to the top including the founder. That gives us the ability to put over 90 cents on the dollar every year directly to veterans’ events,” he said.
Haff has local fundraisers planned in 2020 including with Minot’s Starving Rooster and Atypical Brewery & Barrelworks. He’s also paired up with Lutheran Social Services for fundraising.
Haff has arranged or helped arrange several events for exceptional warriors in North Dakota. Many of the events now are held annually.
Last weekend’s duck hunt that brought together an Army Green Beret medic, an Air Force combat controller and a Marine counter intelligence specialist, along with Haff and Sweger, will be an annual event.
“One of my big things is to help people come here to see things that they might not ever see,” Haff said. “The duck hunters have hunted ducks before down south and other places. They never saw anything like what we saw hunting waterfowl in North Dakota. They were awestruck. It’s a hunt of the lifetime pretty much.”
The F.E.W. sponsors often take part in the adventures. The organization refers to these sponsors as “Exceptional Patriots.”
A Lewis and Clark Memorial River Float for exceptional warriors was first held in 2018 and now is an annual event. Participants spend four days and three nights on the Missouri River between Garrison and Washburn.
“We’re only in canoes. We fish and camp and eat right on the side of the river. In the evening I’ll cook a fish and chips meal or something like that. We’ve done that two years in a row. That’s going to be an annual thing. It’s always the first week of August,” Haff said. Another river float is planned for 2020.
The F.E.W. took part in the 75th anniversary of D-Day commemoration held at the Dakota Territory Air Museum in Minot on June 6. Several exceptional warriors along with several North Dakota World War II veterans made a flight on a C-53 that day. An event will also be planned with the air museum again, Haff said.
A golf event was done this year in conjunction with Tee It Up For The Troops held at the Minot Country Club. Eight exceptional warriors participated and plans are for another such event next year.
The first ice fishing trip is coming up in February in the Van Hook area on Lake Sakakawea. “We’ll have three warriors and we’ll be on the ice for three days. We’ ll get re-supplied so nobody has to leave (the ice),” Haff said.
Haff said nearly every time after an event for exceptional warriors has been held, fellow exceptional warriors will come forward and ask to help with the next event.
Haff said he is pleased with the events held in North Dakota and hopes to do more as the opportunities arise.