The Legacy of the Lancer Battalion
This is where the ranch began. In the middle of a firefight in Sadr City, Iraq on April 4th, 2004. During a routine humanitarian patrol a platoon from the Lancer Battalion was ambushed by 10,000 members of a Shi'a militia. With half their vehicles destroyed and casualties mounting, the platoon took shelter in a nearby alley. The battalion sprang into action by launching a rescue mission that would succeed but only at great cost. Seven Lancers and a tank crew member from another unit died before the fighting ended. On that day bonds were forged between men that I now call 'brothers'.
The Battle of Black Sunday was our first fight but only our third day in Iraq. Throughout the rest of the year we constantly engaged the enemy while simultaneously attempting to perform our original mission of restoring services and rebuilding the sprawling suburb of Baghdad. Missions that began with a simple trip to support a hospital would often turn into a deadly shoot-out. We never knew who to trust or if this was our last day. Snipers took their best shots, Improvised Explosive Devices became increasingly effective and hard to spot. My platoon alone took part in over 214 combat missions before we returned to Fort Hood to a life that now seemed dull by comparison.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan became a revolving door. Those of us who stayed in the service were often home only long enough to complete the year of unit training and refit period before going back to play in the sand box. The Lancer Battalion returned to Sadr City again by 2006 and stayed there for almost 16 months. For some, especially the veterans of the first deployment, this was just fine. Many were angry to still be alive and sought a warrior's death to end the guilt of surviving. The year they had spent with loved ones had seemed strange. They had honed new skills and instincts in battle. But now they couldn't turn them off.
As time wore on many warriors were no longer able to continue the grind, both physically and mentally. They got out, grew beards, collected guns and other things that reminded them of who they used to be. The 1st Cavalry Division erected a monument to the fallen from the 04-05 deployment. It became our touchstone, a rally point that we sought out on the anniversary of our first battle. Not many came at first. We preferred to lick our wounds alone or sought to medicate ourselves in isolation as we tried to make sense of how we came to be trapped inside ourselves, reliving our worst day over and over.
Ten years passed. A committee was formed to host a reunion of the battalion's 2004 deployment at Fort Hood. We gathered by the hundreds on a cool April day and listened as our former leaders tried to convey their sense of pride in what we had accomplished. It was the Gold Star family members, however, that finally broke through our armor. Emotions welled and tears flowed as fathers, brothers and sisters who had lost their loved ones spoke about these men that we knew only as soldiers. For many of us it was the first time that we had shown any visible sign of emotion in ten years. All this time we had done whatever was necessary to quell the firestorm of guilt, the endless nightmares, the crippling depression. Now we were face to face with each other, an event that so many of us had dreaded because we were now face to face with the past.
At length the speeches commemorating our worst day ended. We were each given a rose and invited to lay them below the names of the fallen. As we funneled into the semi-circular memorial we began to pack closer together. Usually this would have been a deal-breaker, as we almost universally despise crowds. But an odd thing began to happen. As we drew closer together, we began to greet each other. We fell into the old, familiar rhythms of camaraderie and jocular male teasing as if no time whatsoever had passed. Tearful hugs led to smiles and then laughter as we caught up with each other's lives and told each other all of the old jovial lies. Some of us noticed something quite astounding. Crowded in tightly as we were to perform a somber ritual on a momentous day, we felt normal. We felt right about everything for the first time in a decade. Could it be that this held a key somehow? Could it be that this reunion of brothers contained the answer to the riddle that is PTSD?
Members of Red Platoon, Charlie Company 2/5, the Lancer Battalion of 1st Cavalry Division began Lancer Legacy Ranch on Memorial Day of 2015. We were the ones who felt so keenly a sense of debt to the men and women of our battalion task force who had, without any regard of their own safety, rode to our rescue in the back of unarmored trucks. Our very lives were a gift and we wanted to return the favor by making a difference in the lives of other veterans. Our chief advantage was the experience of combat and PTSD that provided a baseline of trust with service members. It is often difficult for civilian counselors to bridge that gap and create a rapport. In our case, veterans who show up with those issues automatically know that we get it.
Our initial concept, what I call Lancer version 1, was to create a self-sustaining homestead as the backdrop for delivering peer counseling. In other words we grew our own food, raised livestock and tested every internet theory about sustainable living that we could afford in an effort to discover best practices. Over the course of two years we hosted 64 veterans and learned valuable lessons about what works (and what doesn't) both in dealing with PTSD and in going 'off grid'. Our impact was small to match our shoestring budget, yet we wanted to do more.
Then came Lancer version 2.
This is a picture of our new facility in Maud, Texas. What was once a prison of sorts will now be used to set veterans free. We have an operational agreement with the Cass County Probation Department to use their vacant facility as our base of operations. We currently have room for 24 residents, the support of an entire community and a marvelous facility. Not to mention a network of professionals who have signed on to serve the veterans who come through our doors by providing shelter, food, training, employment, legal services, health care in a secure environment. We welcome you to follow our progress as we expand the blueprint from our Cookville experiment into a model that can be replicated in any state. And, if you dare, come stand with us by providing tax exempt donations and participating in volunteer projects.
Lancer Legacy Ranch empowers veterans to reclaim their lives by helping them identify obstacles to success, providing temporary housing when necessary and connecting them with medical, legal, educational and employment resources within the community. These veterans then become instruments of service as we provide support to our community by giving food, clothing and labor to the needy.
The Lancer Legacy
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Matt Fisk was born in Dequeen, Arkansas and joined the Army in 1997. As an enlisted Infantryman he deployed in support of Operation Noble Anvil during the Kosovo War of 1999. He earned a Combat Infantryman Badge during the Iraqi Shia uprising in 2004. In 2007 he commissioned as an Ordnance officer eventually retiring at the rank of captain. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice as well as being recognized as a Master Gardener in the Cypress Basin Master Gardener's Club. Fisk is a Certified Peer Counselor with the state of Texas, trained to use his recovery store to assist in the healing of other veterans. His 2016 book, Black Knights, Dark Days, documents his unit's actions in Iraq as well as his journey out of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Feel free to contact him via email at email@example.com .