Col. Frank Kestler and his wife, Chrystyna, the mother and stepfather of the late Lt. Joseph Theinert, a former resident of Sag Harbor and Shelter Island, are developing a property in the Magdalena Mountains of New Mexico that will become a rehabilitative ranch for veterans.
The intent is that the facility will help veterans adapt to post-war injuries, both physical and otherwise. It is to be called Strongpoint Theinert in honor of their son, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in June of 2010.
There is an ancient trade route in Afghanistan, also named Strongpoint Theinert, that now functions as a deterrent to the movements of drug smugglers and the Taliban, “named for Joey after he was killed,” his mother said. “Strongpoint” is the Marine term for a forward operating base.
Plans have been drawn and land cleared for the no-fee ranch, which will serve veterans of all wars and their families as well, the couple said. The land, some 1,100 acres, is home to antelope, white-tailed deer, elk, and other wildlife. It was originally purchased by the Kestlers in the hope that their son, who loved the outdoors, would enjoy hunting there.
That was not to be. Instead, they have set aside 400 acres for the ranch, which will be fully handicapped-accessible. The Kestlers, who live in Shelter Island and Mattituck, made the decision after speaking with wounded veterans while visiting Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C, two years ago.
Ms. Kestler visualizes one-week stays, she said in a phone conversation last week, with various programs including hunting, trail rides on quads and horseback, and guided hikes. The couple will make all 1,100 acres available to the veterans and their families.
Some weeks will be geared toward those with severe physical wounds. Others will focus on post-traumatic stress syndrome, women warriors, and Gold Star families, she said, adding that she has already had positive feedback from combat veterans, who she said are not usually comfortable discussing their experiences with civilians. “They are looking forward to a safe place where they can relax and talk to other veterans,” she said.
“There is great healing in sharing with others who have the same experience,” said Ms. Kestler. “I talk to other Gold Star mothers, it helps.” Her husband, a dentist who is in the Army Reserve, was in Afghanistan in November, where “he walked on the same field” where her son died.
A separate 501C(3) charitable corporation is being set up for Strongpoint Theinert. Meanwhile, the couple has used their Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Foundation to put in a driveway and obtain a septic permit. Helping veterans is one of the charters of the foundation, Ms. Kestler explained, in addition to scholarships, which are “all set.”
“I would start building tomorrow,” she said, “but I don’t have the money.” They hope to raise $2 million for construction and another $2 million for operating expenses. Donations may be made through the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Foundation at rememberourjoes.org or by mail, P.O. Box 1650, Mattituck 11952.