Nestled among the calming pine trees of the southern Black Hills is a special place where families can relax, rejuvenate, and make memories.
Narrative: Operation Black Hills Cabin offers active duty service members and veterans injured during combat and their families a place to reconnect, heal, and have fun while exploring beautiful western South Dakota.
Families come from all over the United States to experience the cabin, which is located in Custer. They spend a full week at the cabin, at no cost to them, enjoying all the Black Hills have to offer.
“We wanted to do something for our veterans and there wouldn’t be a better place in the world for them to come than the Black Hills,” said Marty Mahrt, who helped found Operation Black Hills Cabin over nine years ago.
He and his wife Colleen were involved with a group with a shared vision to honor active duty service members and veterans and their families in a special way.
“Some of us were veterans, and we always wanted to do the best we could for our fellow vets,” he said. “We met around the kitchen table and decided this is what we wanted to do for these families.”
Mahrt served two tours of duty in Vietnam with the United States Air Force. He remembers feeling terrible about the way he and other Vietnam veterans were treated upon their return.
“We wanted to make sure these veterans felt different than that and knew they were appreciated,” Mahrt said./image
Volunteers with the cabin help coordinate area activities and sight-seeing opportunities for the families to enjoy during their stay. Families can enjoy themselves without lifting a finger.
“There are always some happy tears when they realize what all we have in store for them,” Mahrt said. “It’s a neat project, and we put our hearts and souls into making sure it’s done right.”
Mahrt sees first-hand the lasting impact a stay at Operation Black Hills Cabin has on families. He meets with the families when they arrive at the cabin to ensure they have all they need.
“One of the last veterans who stayed at the cabin with his family told us ‘this was the best week of my life,’” he said.
Operation Black Hills Cabin is now accepting applications on their website. Families can apply at www.operationblackhillscabin.org. The website also features information on donating to or volunteering with the cabin.
WORDS: KATIE WIEDERHOLT PHOTOS: JESSE BROWN NELSON