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Combat vets look to heal, find happiness at Sundance

Published October 15, 2011 1:26 pm

Retreat • Meditation, yoga are among tools they'll use for ailments such as PTSD.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sundance • Fifteen combat veterans and their spouses are spending the weekend at Sundance Resort, trying to find a way back to happiness.

The retreat, underwritten by the Wounded Warrior Project, seeks to help those wounded in battle heal so that they can thrive, said Lisa Cypers Kamen, a Los Angeles-based positive psychology therapist.

The veterans — 14 men and one woman — are mostly from the western United States; three are from Utah. Besides sessions intended to equip the veterans and their spouses with tools to attain happiness, they will do yoga and meditation and release a rehabilitated golden eagle into the wild, Kamen said.

Chante Chidester, of Fountain Green, whose husband, Bradley, was injured in Iraq, said after Friday's opening reception that she hopes to equip herself for the challenges ahead. Typically, she focuses on helping Bradley through his post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Four times since he returned from Iraq, Bradley Chidester has had in-patient treatment for PTSD.

"It's been a long time, a long, hard road," said Bradley Chidester, who is studying recreational resource management at Utah State University's branch in Ephraim.

A native of St. George, he joined the U.S. Army at age 17 in 1999. On Oct. 5, 2005, he was a gunner on a striker truck cruising through Mosul, Iraq, when a suicide bomber smashed his car into the Army truck.

Chidester had shrapnel in his arms and chest, and soon was back in the United States. It was only months after returning to St. George that the PTSD became apparent; it's been a struggle since then to remain enrolled in college.

At this retreat, Chidester said, he hopes to learn more about happiness, including the fact that it requires work for anyone, particularly someone dogged by combat experiences.

"I feel alone a lot," he said.

Kamen said she has been working with vets in Los Angeles for more than a year, but this retreat is the first for her organization, Harvesting Happiness for Heroes. It will end Monday at noon.

kmoulton@sltrib.com