When Justin Bond of Hanford recently brought five men to Bass Lake for a retreat, they received more mountain hospitality than they could have ever thought possible.
When Bond saw Ryan Sullivan filling up his snowmobile at the Pines Shell station, he approached him, asking where he could rent snowmobiles so members of his group could enjoy an exciting and memorable experience in the snow.
Sullivan quickly learned this was no ordinary group - they were six military veterans, each with a life-changing disability.
Sullivan told Bond there was no one in the area that rented snowmobiles - but he told Bond to bring his group back to Bass Lake the following week, and his friends from the Bass Lake Snowmobiling Club would provide them a day they would remember for a long time.
Bond explained to Sullivan that he was seriously injured in 2002, during the three-day Battle of Fallujah, outside Baghdad.
His company was delivering supplies to Marines in Fallujah when their truck was surrounded and Bond was hit in both knees by bullets from an AK-47. He spent more than a year in an Army hospital, but after 33 surgeries, including three failed knee replacements, he decided to have his left leg amputated above the knee.
Prior to his injury, Bond was out of the service, but on Sept. 11, 2001, when planes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York, he immediately rejoined the Army National Guard 1072nd Company stationed in Fresno.
Bond is now the CEO/Founder of Our Heroes’ Dreams (OHD), a non-profit organization started nearly five years ago, dedicated to helping veterans with disabilities accomplish their dreams.
“That day at Bass Lake when I met Ryan, I was reminded why so many decided to serve this great country,” Bond said. “It was because while getting gas at the Pines at Bass Lake a great American saw that I was a wounded vet and after he learned I was with other wounded vets, he volunteered to arrange for several of his friends to take our group of vets out for a day of fun, and even hosted a barbecue for us that day. This is an example of what makes America great and this is an example of why I chose to rejoin the military after 9/11 happened.”
“Obviously they have given way more for our country than most people,” Sullivan said. “I thought taking them snowmobiling would be the least we could do for these guys who have done so much for us.”
Bond did return a week later to find 10 snowmobiles and their owners lined-up in the Pines Village parking lot to greet the veterans. After introductions, the group headed up Beasore Road for a day of fun and adventure.
The veterans, who took part in the outing with Bond were John Cook, Josh Steelman, Robert Levy, Dan Fisher, and Ernest Serrato. Bond’s and Cook’s service dogs, Boomer and Ivy also participated.
“Those service dogs are amazing,” Bryan Smith said. “They loved running through the snow all day long.”
The veterans, each at the controls of a club member’s snowmobile, spent all day flying across the snow through the Sierra National Forest. Lunch was provided by the snowmobile club at a cabin owned by club President Eric Persson, owner of California Paving.
In addition to Persson and Sullivan, other club members who provided snowmobiles for the veterans were Steve Arata, Jacob Moren, David Olney, Chad Williams, and the Smith brothers, Bryan and Jason.
“Being a volunteer fireman, I understand a little about serving - these guys made big sacrifices to serve our nation at the highest level, and many of them have paid the price, both mentally and physically,” Arata said. “Some of these guys come home with serious injuries, having to be on morphine, and are at a pretty low point in their lives. Justin and his organization are doing a lot to get these veterans back to living normal and productive lives as they can.”
Bryan Smith said it was an honor to meet fellow veterans and spend the day with them.
“Our Heroes’ Dreams is a great organization made up of men supporting their brothers/sisters who have been wounded or are suffering from the effects of military service,” Smith said. “A lot of these guys had never been to the snow before. One of the vets, Josh, told me it was the most fun he had ever had in one day. Being a veteran (First Sgt, currently serving in the Army Reserves) myself, the day we spent together showed the bond that members of the service have and will always have.”
“Camp Freedom” planned for North Fork area
Bond said OHD is looking to go full-time with its mission in helping to save the lives of our nation’s heroes. To do this he is currently looking to purchase about 400 acres near North Fork to build a full-time ranch to help upwards of 1,000 veterans a year.
“We have been looking for a new home for our veterans program and we absolutely fell in love with the Bass Lake/North Forth area and are super excited to say that we have fundraisers in place to make our home in the Mountain Area. Our goal is to purchase the land to create a full-time veterans camp that we will call Camp Freedom.”
Bond explained that his organization currently operates on a part-time basis, but to be successful they need to operate on a full-time basis so when someone needs help they can respond immediately.
“We are reaching out to Americans to donate $22 a month for a year ... and if we can get 946 people to do that, it would raise nearly a quarter million dollars for our efforts,” Bond said. “These men and women have paid a great price in defending our nation, and we believe they should have every opportunity to help aid in their recovery.”
Bass Lake event May 27
Tom and Tammy Tuso, owners of Bass Lake Boat Rentals, will assist Bond and former patients of Valley Children’s Hospital with a “Little and Big Heroes Day” at Bass Lake, 8 a.m. - 2 p.m., providing boat rides, skiing, tubing, and fishing for all veterans and their families.
The Bass Lake Queen II will also be running and will provide free public rides during the six-hour period.
“We’re happy to be helping with this event,” Tom Tuso said. “Anything we can do to give these veterans and former Valley Children’s Hospital patients a fun day will be worth it.”
Details: Bass Lake Boat Rentals, (559) 642-3200.
Details: www.ourheroesdreams.org, Justin Bond, (559) 381-2853.