After retiring from the Army, Lt. Col. Michael Tachias found himself suffering from combat injuries and the void left from no longer being a soldier. He has embarked upon a new kind of service: creating a desert retreat for combat veterans to be with fellow soldiers, sailors, Airmen and Marines, and help connect their war experiences to their lives back home.

Located the desert of central New Mexico, about 48 miles northwest of Kirtland, the desert landscape in the Cabezon area resembles the majestic vistas of Afghanistan — land that has seen Spanish, Native American and American armies battle where many of the vets he hopes to help fought for their country, he said. “But nobody’s shooting at you now,” he said. “That mountain just transforms you.” It was Tachias’ wife, Rowena, who suggested using the land to help himself and other warfighters. “She said, ‘Why don’t you turn it into a retreat for those guys?’” Tachias said.

Building a retreat on the 65-acre plot has become the retired soldier’s new mission. “Here’s my opportunity to continue,” he said. “If you care about soldiers, the mission never ends.” Tachias knew from personal experience that there is a great need for a place for combat veterans to spend time with those who know exactly what they’re going through. Tachias’ 30-year Army career as a paratrooper, the same job his father and his brother had working in special operations and U.S. Central Command during the post-9/11 wars. He counts such well-known figures as Gen. David Petreus, Gen. Ray Odierno and Adm. William J. Fallon, among others, as his mentors.

You feel guilt about those who didn’t come back. I’m alive today because the Good Lord surrounded me with his angels, my troops.

Having commanded men in battle, and seeing them wounded or die, guilt is something he dealt with. “In the Army, we send those guys back home to their families, and they’re not in one piece,” Tachias said. “You feel guilt about those who didn’t come back. I’m alive today because the Good Lord surrounded me with his angels, my troops.” Tachias’ medical retirement came about due to traumatic brain injury and concussions suffered from his encounters with improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan and Iraq. After he retired, Tachias reached out to combat veterans he met during his medical recovery at Fort Bliss, Texas. He wanted to bring them to a patch of land owned by his grandfather near New Mexico’s iconic Cabezon Peak.

Tachias’ family also demonstrates the cost of serving in combat. His grandfather served in World War I, and he has two brothers, both in the Army. His father served during the Korean and Vietnam wars. In his dad’s case, the road to coming to some peace was long. “With my dad, I see a difference,” he said. “But he’s in his 80s. It’s taken a while.” Progress on the retreat is steady, Tachias said. He is installing portable buildings to serve as bunkhouses, a kitchen and cafeteria, and workshops. Electrical and water lines are being installed, along with orchards, gardens and a zip line over the Rio Puerco, and a nearby church is being renovated. Volunteers have pitched in to help bring the idea into reality. And the retreat itself is “like a small fire base,” similar to those one would find in a combat theater. “It’s good therapy,” he said. “Overseas, we’re always reinforcing our positions. Now, we’re still doing it for a worthy cause.” Tachias just set up the retreat as a nonprofit organization and is in need of more volunteers, as well as donations of money, building materials and food. He is especially interested in having active-duty Airmen and other military members involved in the effort.

 

Anyone interested in getting involved with the Cabezon Wounded Warrior Haven can contact by either phone or email at 505.480.4836 or mike@cabezonhaven.org.

Story by Ryan Stark
rstark@rrobserver.com