In honor of our 10-year anniversary, we’re interviewing individuals who have been involved with Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation in different capacities, some of whom have been involved since the inception of the Foundation in 2007. Today, we’re interviewing Victor Quinones, a warrior who went through the WQW program in 2008.

To provide some context, tell me who you are, where you’re from, and how you first came to know about Warriors and Quiet Waters?

I joined the Marine Corps in 1991 as an infantryman, and I did multiple deployments overseas. My last deployment to Iraq was in 2006. I was injured a few times in country and returned stateside three months later after more serious injuries.

In the beginning of 2007, there was a program that placed injured veterans near their hometown to help encourage their healing process.

The nearest station for me was Lemoore Naval Air Station, where I spent about 8 months. While I was there, the doctors removed some shrapnel from my right leg, and they worked to repair my right knee, but after a bunch of surgeries, they realized that my injuries were too severe for them to handle. I was the first combat-injured military personnel to come through.

They sent me to the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. At this point, it was 2008 and I had been active duty for 18 years. I spent about 18 months at Balboa Naval Hospital in both surgery and rehab, and after the staff there did everything that they could, they opted to give me my retirement in 2010, with 19 years of experience.

I’m from Hamford, California, and it’s about 30 minutes south of Fresno. I did one year in junior college in 1990. After I heard that America was going to war (during the first Gulf War), I signed up just because of that.

When I went to WWB in Balboa, I reconnected with a buddy of mine, SGT Dan Harrington, who had been blown up in the same humvee as I had been wounded in. He had been to Warriors and Quiet Waters before and recommended it to me. At the time (2008) there were so many programs for wounded veterans, that the feedback among warriors was that we were on display instead of the programs really trying to help us.

I never wanted to be showcased or get a pat on the back, so I didn’t want to go to any of the programs, but my buddy (Dan) encouraged me, saying it was really different from the other programs.

What were your thoughts and feelings about coming to Montana to participate? How did you feel when you left Montana?

I was very hesitant, mostly because I didn’t want to be a part of the “dog and pony show” that I mentioned before, but because I had been in the hospital for so long, that I felt I needed to do something. The fact that Warriors and Quiet Waters wasn’t in a stadium or wasn’t in a huge arena made me feel like I could go. The reason that I finally decided to go was because Dan was very encouraging and convinced me.

Because of my injuries and because the doctors weren’t able to fix certain parts of me, my mental state was that of a trapped tiger pulled out of the jungle and put into a cage. The room that I spent 18 months in while I was a part of the Wounded Warrior Battalion was probably 8’ x 10’, and I felt trapped.

After I left Montana and came back to California, that’s when I feel like my healing really started.

What was your favorite part of the program?

The reason that I wanted to go to the program was because I love being outside, whether it’s hot or cold, and I love experiencing the elements. But after I got there, honestly, the best part was the Moms. When the volunteer moms would make us food and serve us dinner, I felt really at home. I felt like I could drop my guard, and it was the closest thing I had ever felt to being at my own home with my mom. After being in a hospital for so long, it was an awesome feeling.

Looking back on the program, how did it impact you the most?

It literally popped the bubble that I had put around me to keep people away. Whether it was doctors or family members, most military personnel I know always put up a bubble, because you don’t want people in your space or to answer questions or to even talk about it.

It’s almost like your whole life is on pause and you’re living in a state of denial. Warriors and Quiet Waters were the first ones in two years who got me to pop my bubble. When you’re immersed in a hospital environment, your whole life is doctor’s appointments and medications and therapy, pain and not being able to sleep. So you go from that to spending six days {with WQW}…those six days feel so long, like they’ve been slowed down to a snail’s pace. I could actually take in things and realized that there still could be great times in my life.

Those six days allowed me to drop my guard and let people in to help me. Afterward, I opened up more to my family members, my doctors, and to my friends.

What do you remember about coming back to the Couples FX with your wife Annaca?

When I got back, all I could tell Annaca about was how wonderful the people were. When WQW called and offered us spots on the Couples FX, there was no way that I would let my wife miss out on this experience. At the time, she was having her own struggles and she didn’t have anyone to open up to, and I knew that because I had felt so much peace at Warriors and Quiet Waters, I knew my wife would feel twice as much peace after attending.

You have to understand, in 1990, I graduated bootcamp, came home on a Saturday, married her on a Sunday, and deployed on Monday. We never had a honeymoon, and the FX was the first time we had stopped and had time to ourselves. She came home rejuvenated, just like I had.

As WQW continues to serve warriors, how do you think the programs can best help post-9/11 combat veterans in the future?

I think the recipe at WQW is the right one. I don’t know if it was trial and error, but I was a hardass when I came. If WQW could get me, a seasoned staff sergeant, to drop their guard, then their recipe is working.

Do you ever get time to fish these days?

Yes! I always was a fisherman and it got put on hold because of my deployments. My wife is still my best fishing partner and we still fish as often as we get time to do it.

Thank you Victor!