Wounded Warriors Unwind at Bill Cohen’s Howling Wolf Ranch
BY PAT HILL
Retired Wall Street executive Bill Cohen is going the extra mile to ensure that some of this nation's servicemen wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan get a special thank you here in Big Sky Country courtesy of the Howling Wolf Ranch.
Cohen’s ranch is situated in Montana’s picturesque rolling landscape with views of the Crazy Mountains, just 2 miles or so north of the iconic Sheep Mountain. That’s about 19 miles north of Livingston, in Park County, and 30 miles due east of Gallatin Field. Cohen bought the 520-acre property in May of 2009 with the intent of developing a facility worthy of the service America's wounded warriors have given to their country. He works with top military hospitals such as the Walter Reed Medical Center in order to bring recovering wounded veterans to the ranch, where their minds as well as their bodies can convalesce. Fly-fishing, horseback riding, and just plain relaxing are all part of the picture at the Howling Wolf Ranch.
Cohen hosted three different groups of recover-ing servicemen at the ranch this past summer for a six-day stay in the wide open spaces of Montana.
“I think I get as much or more out of it than they do,” Cohen told the Pioneer. “I can honestly tell you that out of the 22 guys that were here this season, all 22 of them didn't want to leave when it was over.”
Facilities at the Howling Wolf Ranch include a modern six-bedroom lodge-style home with four bathrooms and a stunning view of the Crazies. Cohen said he can “sleep ten of these wounded warriors in the house.” ATVs, tack, and other equipment are housed in a large barn and shop on the premises, which also boasts a five-acre lake containing some fairly large trout, according to Cohen.
“Our activities are probably centered around fly-fishing,” he said. “We spend about two and a half days fly-fishing. What we do is charter drift-boats and go down the Yellowstone River with fishing guides. The first day the wounded warriors get here, I pick them up at the airport, we come back and have a little bite to eat, and then we get to work with fly-fishing guides…it's like fly-fishing 101A…and once they've had that ground instruction, we take them down to the lake and they catch fish.” Cohen said it's been his observation that the servicemen “really get into it” when it comes to that first fly-fishing excursion.
“The fish really are quite large,” Cohen said. “So they're really ready for the next day and the drift-boat fishing…but it is a ranch, and the number two activity seems to be horseback riding. They all seem to want to do that.” The Copper Spring Ranch near Bozeman provides horses and people to “help out on the ride.“
“They are really big supporters of what we do here,“ Cohen said of the Copper Spring Ranch. He said activities on horseback seem to take up the “better part of two days.” The wounded warriors also spend one full day on a trip to Yellowstone Park on a chartered bus with a guide.
“Of course the vets have choices,” said Cohen. ATV riding and trap shooting are also popular past-times at the ranch, where “R and R” is what it's all about.
The Howling Wolf Ranch isn't Cohen's first venture into what he refers to as “giving back.” Cohen, who retired from the world of Wall Street in 1994, established the Howling Wolf Foundation in 1997 as a vehicle to give back some of his good fortune in life. He bought a ranch near Whitefish, Montana, within two years, where he hosted families with seriously ill children via the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Cohen sold the Whitefish ranch in 2003, but the Howling Wolf Foundation remained intact, and the onslaught of wounded servicemen returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan inspired Cohen to lend a hand once again.
“There's something along the order of 20,000 of these guys that have been wounded,” Cohen said. “So I started working on it…looking into what I could do.” Cohen's approach began to gel in 2008, as he realized that, with the contacts he knew and the reputation he already had through Make-A-Wish, he could also provide wounded soldiers with a ranch experience. After purchasing the 520-acre property in 2009, Cohen “brought in” military medical professionals from around the country, including Balboa Naval Hospital and the Camp Pendleton and Twenty-Nine Palms Marine Corps Bases in southern California, the Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
“The three major rehab centers in the United States are Walter Reed, Brooke Army, and Balboa,” said Cohen. “That's where they send these kids…they get the injury, and often within 48 hours they're in one of these hospitals. The guys we've had here so far…they've got great attitudes. Some of them have suffered some fairly serious injuries.” Cohen described a horseback ride with a vet named Doug Rink (see photo page 15) that had an unexpected ending. Doug had lost a leg serving his country overseas, but that did not stem his desire to ride a horse.
“It was a great ride…Doug was doing really well…we put him on our best horse,” Cohen said, “and we were going through the trees and all of a sudden Doug said 'Whoops.' Everybody turned around and Doug said 'My [prosthetic] leg has fallen off. Normally you might think horror and terror and sadness, but it was nothing like that. Everybody was laughing, and Doug was the one that was laughing the most. Great attitudes…not just Doug but all of them…great attitudes, after having suffered some fairly serious injuries.”
Cohen said that as long as this country has wounded warriors, he's going to keep the program going at the Howling Wolf Ranch.
“It's just a joy for me,” he said, “and I'm starting to get a lot of help.” He said help is starting to pour in from volunteers and people on the Foundation's board, like Colonel Peter Fox of the Shields Valley, a veteran that Cohen said has been a great help to him. Cohen gives Park County high marks overall for supporting his efforts, but especially for honoring our vets.
“I took the first group of Marines that were here from San Diego to Livingston for the rodeo,” said Cohen. “I thought I should call rodeo organizers and let them know the vets were going to be there. About halfway through the rodeo, they stopped the event and announced that Howling Wolf Ranch was here, and they named each of the guys. Five thousand people stood up and gave them a standing ovation. I've got to say, it just brought tears to my eyes… because I knew what it did for them…it made them feel real special. It was pure Montana.”
For donations or volunteer opportunities at the Howling Wolf Ranch, visit howlingwolfranchfoundation.com.