While the Iraq War might be over, retired U.S. Army Sgt. Daniel Carpenter's battle continues.
Carpenter, a combat medic, and Judy Rigg, Palm Key's managing general partner, are working to build a wellness center for The Independence Fund to help other wounded veterans heal.
Founded by veterans, The Independence Fund provides emotional and financial support in myriad ways to severely wounded veterans and their families. For the third year, the fund will sponsor the Lt. Dan Weekend in Beaufort, which features a concert by "CSI: NY" actor Gary Sinise, a bike ride and therapeutic programs. For the second year, accommodations for the veterans and their families will be at Palm Key, a 350-acre wellness retreat on Knowles Island overlooking the Broad River.
Carpenter sees his new mission serving as The Independence Fund's ambassador and envoy at Palm Key as a spiritual journey of healing.
The Lowcountry island is about as close to home as Carpenter has ever been. A Navy brat, Carpenter grew up in the countryside of Honolulu, where he hiked trails and was a runner and Scuba diver.
Carpenter first encountered Palm Key when he was among the more than 160 severely wounded veterans and their caregivers who stayed there during The Independence Fund's four-day Lt. Dan Weekend in September 2011.
"When I came here for the Lt. Dan Weekend ... I fell in love with the healing aspect of this area," Carpenter said. "I fell in love with the marsh and felt at peace looking out over the salt marsh and not hearing horns honking and cars going by. It was very therapeutic for me to come here."
"Also, being with guys just like me made me feel normal," he said.
This year's Lt. Dan Weekend has been expanded to seven days to give the vets and their families time to experience the serenity of the island, Rigg said.
"It is such a critical thing that we open up a path to help these people helped by The Independence Fund and organizations like them to take away the sting," Rigg said.
"Daniel is here and able to give and to share and to make a difference," Rigg said. "Daniel is dealing with his own things, but because he is, he is the best. He knows what it takes to become healthy again. The whole program is designed, built and managed by vets as a gift to the other vets."
Carpenter, 46, sees himself as "just the dude down here," but he's there to help the recovering wounded. "I'm the point guy for vets who want to come here and schedule trips here," Carpenter said. Drawing from his experiences -- from his 1999 deployment with the First Armored Division to Kosovo to his March 2003 deployment at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom -- and all that followed, Carpenter is offering guidance to other vets.
"I was blessed with good bedside manner," Carpenter said. "I know how to talk to the guys."
Carpenter's healing continues from back injuries, traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder. His best friend committed suicide after returning home from the war, something Carpenter admits he also has considered. He's faced marital problems, divorce, separation from his three children and is working toward building back other family relationships that deteriorated because of his PTSD. He's filed and fought for medical benefits and tests and knows the ropes.
"I am one of them and I know how to talk to them," Carpenter said. "I'm still going through my own stuff, but it is just as therapeutic for me to get help as it is to give help."
Rigg sees healing happening from both sides for the veterans. "Each time Daniel gets another case and someone else to help, it is a big milestone for him," Rigg said.
She credits Steve Danyluk, founder of The Independence Fund, for continuing the caring. "Steve is opening up a door where they can give and feel useful and give them an opening to care about everybody else."
Before becoming active duty in the U.S. Army in August 1998, Carpenter was a volunteer at the Honolulu Zoo and worked as a vet tech for an emergency animal hospital. At age 30, he "felt like it was time to serve" so he joined the military.
Fear overcame him during his year in Iraq. "I wasn't matured as a soldier," Carpenter said. "I was scared when we went out and did every mission.
While the returning were treated like heroes, many needed help and none wanted to admit their problems or seek help for fear of appearing weak, he said.
When he returned home in 2004, blocks of time and memory were lost, he woke up one night believing he was punching the enemy. When his wife woke him, he grimly discovered it was his 1-year-old daughter.
"I could feel my knuckles against his head, but it was my daughter," Carpenter recounted with a tears in his eyes.
"I did it for survival, but when you do that when you come home, and the off switch is broken, you are ostracized," Carpenter said.
Carpenter uses his free time on the island to promote his healing through walks, kayaking, fossil hunting and Reiki massage.
"I can't believe I'm being given this opportunity to heal here as well as help my soldier brothers and sisters in their process of healing as well," Carpenter said. "For me, the healing comes in the form of the beauty of the land, the wildlife, the saltwater marsh, the history, the whole package."
Like many returning veterans, Carpenter wrestles with survivor's guilt. "I feel like I've been watched over," Carpenter said. "I feel like I'm getting opportunities to make it right. Why do I keep getting all this opportunity to make it right? I get to hit 'restart.' "
And restarting is what he's hoping to help others do.
UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST CONGREGATION OF THE LOWCOUNTRY
The Rev. Lynne Garner's sermon "Marking Time" at 10 a.m. Sunday will discuss celebrating the new year around the world and will note some of the conceptual differences in how time itself is thought of and how it impacts our lives. The church is at 110 Malphrus Road, Bluffton.
UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST FELLOWSHIP OF BEAUFORT
The Rev. Nan White will discuss "30 Days of Love: Who and Why?" at 10 a.m. Sunday. This service will include a "service of installation" of the new officers and board of the church. The fellowship meets at 178 Sams Point Road, Lady's Island.
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE SOCIETY OF BEAUFORT
The Christian Science Society, Beaufort, joins with the Hilton Head Island and Savannah Christian Science churches to sponsor a weekly radio broadcast on WLOW 107.9 FM at 8:30 a.m. Sundays. The show will discuss how people overcome illness, relationship difficulties, financial hardships and other trials through prayer.
"Sacrament" will be the subject of the Bible Lesson Sermon at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. The society meets at Temple Beth Israel, 401 Scott St., Beaufort.
SECOND GOODWILL BAPTIST CHURCH
Food distribution at the food pantry at 2201 Morris St., Beaufort, will resume Wednesday.
ALL SAINTS EPISCOPAL CHURCH
The church will dedicate its new Walker organ as part of the 9 a.m. service Sunday. R. Steven Branyon, All Saints' organist/choirmaster, will include the works of Vaughan Williams, Mathias and Walton. The church is at 3001 Meeting St., Hilton Head.
Details: Steven Branyon, 843-681-8333
ST. LUKE'S UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
An open 12-Step Meeting is held from 7 to 8 p.m. every Tuesday in the Fellowship Hall. The church is on S.C. 170 near the back gates of Sun City Hilton Head in Okatie/Bluffton.
LUNCH HOUR OF POWER
Pastor Lawrence Washington, pastor of Omega Worship Center, will speak from noon to 12:45 p.m. Wednesday in Helen Galloway's Memorial Chapel of Chisholm Galloway Home for Funerals, 808 Bladen St., Beaufort.
BETH ISRAEL SYNAGOGUE
The synagogue will host its weekend with Rabbi Arnold Belzer and his wife, Arlene, at 7 p.m. Friday and at 10 a.m. Jan. 14, after which a light lunch will be served. Belzer will officiate at both services. He served as rabbi of Savannah's historic Mickve Israel for more than 20 years. Beth Israel was founded in Beaufort in 1905. The synagogue is at 401 Scott St., Beaufort.
Details: 843-524-4076, www.bethisrael-beaufort.com
CONGREGATION BETH YAM
John Gadson, former director of Penn Center, will speak at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Service at 8 p.m. Friday. The congregation meets at 4501 Meeting St. Hilton Head Island.
SHELL POINT BAPTIST CHURCH
A free, warm meal and conversation is offered from 6 to 7 p.m. each Friday at the church, 871 Parris Island Gateway, Beaufort. Refining Christian Maturity Recovery meeting will be at 7 p.m. A food pantry also is available.
Details: Joy Kircher, 843-575-2200, firstname.lastname@example.org
OLD ASHLEY BAPTIST ASSOCIATION
All churches in District Three of the Old Ashley Baptist Association will meet at 9 a.m. Jan. 21 at Israelite Baptist Church, Laurel Bay. The church is at 46 Rug Rag Road, Laurel Bay.
THE PARISH CHURCH OF ST. HELENA
The event will include the ringing of the 1726 church bell at 9:15 a.m. and calling all to worship as they did in the 18th century. Flag bearers with various historical flags and in period costumes will line the front walkway of the church as a town crier will "cry" a greeting from Queen Elizabeth and the Archbishop of Canterbury. A special worship service will follow with sermon by Chartres, with original tricentennial music composed by English composer Malcolm Archer and performed by the St. Helena's choir, accompanied by special orchestral musicians.
The church is at 505 Church St., Beaufort.