Rancho Santa Fe resident's Montana ranch a place for wounded warriors to thrive

By Diane Welch

Last year, Rancho Santa Fe resident Bill Cohen purchased property 19 miles outside of Livingston, Montana. With 520 acres of unspoiled land, a lake stocked with trout and some of the rawest, majestic scenery in the country, Cohen not only bought pristine real estate but he purchased a long-held dream: a ranch.

The property is a way for Cohen to give back to his country after a successful career on Wall Street. His ranch serves as a respite for some of this nation's “wounded warriors.” Through Howling Wolf Ranch Foundation, marines, army and navy personnel—wounded in action—have a place to unwind.

On the property sits a 5,000-square-foot, two-story ranch lodge, built eight years ago, with six bedrooms, four full bathrooms and a pool room. This summer Cohen built a barn to house horses and tackle.

“We're able to offer horseback riding, fly fishing, trips to Yellowstone Park, hiking and other activities,” said Cohen about the six-day long visits to the ranch.

Three groups of wounded warriors visited Howling Wolf Ranch during its first season, which runs mid-June through the beginning of October. The servicemen were referred through Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Brooke Army Medical Center, and Balboa Naval Hospital.

The first group were marines from Camp Pendleton and 29 Palms. Their arrival coincided with the 4th of July celebrations. “Livingston has an annual rodeo at this time, so I got the idea that I should call the rodeo up and tell them that we we're going to be there,” said Cohen. “They wanted the names of all the eight soldiers.”

About halfway through the rodeo there was an announcement introducing the eight soldiers. “Five thousand people gave them a standing ovation. It was spectacular,” said Cohen, who was moved to tears by the recognition.

The group had two-and-a-half-days of fly fishing on the Yellowstone River. “Fishing has therapeutic qualities, it gets their minds off their injuries, the bad experience that they may have had,” said Cohen.

They also went on horseback riding treks.

“The guys have to saddle up their horses, and brush them down. We have expert horse people to assist, who also go along on the ride” Cohen explained.

In the last group of soldiers there was a Major with a prosthetic leg.

“When I asked if he thought he was up to the ride, he said, 'Absolutely, nothing is going to stop me,'” said Cohen. “Riding along he suddenly shouted, 'Darn it, my leg has fallen off!' Instead of it being a tragedy, or something sad, everybody started laughing, including him,” said Cohen, who realized the strength of character of these men who have gone through so much, yet who still have a great sense of humor.

“I was told by referring doctors not to ask how the men got their injuries. But at dinner someone would start to tell what happened to them and pretty soon others were telling their stories. We sat there and listened and some of it was hair-raising but it was good for them to get it off their chest, it was therapeutic,” Cohen said.

Cohen's foundation helps fund part of the costs of the stays. Most of the expense is in the airfares. A San Diego organization called the Nice Guys paid for the airfares of marines that stayed this year, said Cohen. “It was a great help.”

For 2011, the plan is to accommodate four group visits to aid 28 wounded warriors, so more funding will help meet the plan.

To find out more about Bill Cohen's ranch or to make a tax deductible donation, visit www.howlingwolfranchfoundation.com. He may also be reached at (646) 369 9657 or via email at hlgwolf@yahoo.com.

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