Circle of life and healing

Heroes in Transition provides support for veterans with PTSD.

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David Berube served in the military for 21 years, part of that time spent as a chaplain at Dover Air Force Base, where he comforted the families of fallen troops.

Eleven years ago, the Oak Bluffs resident was at Dover when Cynthia and Kenneth Jones of Mashpee recovered their son, Eric, a Marine who was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

Berube recently realized that connection when he was at a couples retreat sponsored by Heroes in Transition (HIT), a Cape Cod nonprofit created by Cynthia and her husband Kenneth Jones, who has since passed away, in memory of their son to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

On Friday, HIT will hold its annual gala — this year virtually — to raise money for the array of programs they sponsor, which include retreats, equine therapy, and service dogs.

As she recounted the story about Berube telling her about being stationed at Dover as a chaplain, Cynthia Jones said, “When he came up and told me at the couples retreat and told me that he was there, I couldn’t breathe. It was just so overwhelming to me. How do these circles of life work? It was just amazing to me.”

Berube was a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard at the time. He was on a deployment at Dover from 2009 to 2010. “They’re the first family I’ve had an opportunity to reconnect with since my time down there, which for me is a good starting point to talk about the organization and the healing work they do,” Berube said. “That was a real healing moment for me.”

Berube has been a member of the clergy for 30 years, and he and his wife moved to Oak Bluffs in 1997 where his wife, Ellen, was a teacher at the Oak Bluffs School. He was a police officer in Oak Bluffs, and a chaplain with the department. He is retired, most recently serving as the minister at the Federated Church in Edgartown. He suffers from PTSD, which he can’t pinpoint to any one experience.

“It really was a journey. It really was a cumulative effect. There’s just a point where it overwhelmed my ability to cope with it,” he said. “And like most people, particularly practitioners, people who help other people, the image I often use is being in the water helping other people into the lifeboat. At some point, if you need to get in the lifeboat yourself, you’re not inclined to do that because you’re the person who helps other people; why would you need to get in the lifeboat? It eventually overtook me. Thankfully, I had a good community of caregivers around me who, when it finally was far too much for me to overcome, were there to catch me and point me to the help I needed to begin to heal and recover, and who are still walking that journey with me. HIT is a big piece of that.”

Two weeks ago, he benefited from equine therapy offered by HIT. “There is a real connection between people and horses in general. Between veterans or military members and horses, there’s a real healing relationship that is very mystical in the way that we and horses connect,” he said. “Horses are nonjudgmental. But they’re very clear in their communication. If you’re giving mixed messages about what you want to do next, they will wait and sort out what you’re trying to say. If you’re trying to get them to do something that is unwise, unsafe, or uncomfortable, they’ll let you know. You can’t force a 1,200-pound animal to move if they choose not to … You learn a lot about how you communicate when you work with a horse.”

Berube is also in line to receive a service dog from the organization.

Jones said the program has benefited from Berube as well, whom she calls “part of the family.” “He’s given to all the veterans,” she said. “He’s a deep, deep man who is so spiritual. I love being in his presence.”

HIT helps the veterans, but also does so much for spouses and children, Berube said.

“Cyndy often says Eric’s mission was to make sure the troops on the ground had what they needed,” Berube said. “HIT’s mission has continued his mission by finding out what veterans and military members need, and how do we get it to them.”

One of the ways they do that is through raising money at events like Friday’s gala. The people of the Cape and Islands have been generous, Jones said, acknowledging that the pandemic has made raising money a challenge.

The theme of this year’s event is “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.” Air Force Maj. Sara LaFanchise will be the keynote speaker of the virtual event. She enlisted in the Massachusetts Air National Guard in 1997, and currently serves as a flight commander for the 102nd Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Group at Otis Air National Guard Base. She and her husband, Eric, were introduced to HIT through a fishing trip they participated in with their children. 

To purchase tickets or donate to the gala, visit heroesintransition.org.

Sponsors for this year’s Fall Gala include the William and Linda Zammer Foundation, the Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod, Cape Cod Retractable Awnings in Pocasset, and Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank.

Despite the challenges that COVID-19 has brought with it, Jones is optimistic that the gala will be a success. “So far people have been generous, which has boggled our minds,” she said. “We’re moving along and keeping our programs going.”