Loren Minnix helps veterans return to civilian life

By Catherine Whittier

» Every Tuesday evening at 5 p.m. the door at the Warrior’s Hope headquarters on Madison Avenue in Greenwood is unlocked to welcome a gathering of military veterans. A conference table surrounded by cushioned chairs occupies most of the group meeting room, which is decorated with colorful commemorative flags that represent various branches of the military. Framed photos, quotes and mementos take up what little space is left on the bookshelves arranged around the room. This is obviously a place to honor and remember sacrifices made — sacrifices that civilians may never fully understand.

The veterans who come to Warrior’s Hope are seeking support and friendship as they face the challenges of reintegration into civilian life. Loren Minnix, president and founder of Warrior’s Hope, waves his hand over the table to describe what happens during the peer support group meetings that take place here. Veterans from all branches of the service attend to discuss their combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They may suffer through bouts of anger, depression or perhaps, moral injury.

The meetings allow veterans to share experiences and receive help in a way that they might not while sitting in a doctor’s office. The nonprofit organization offers support from a biblical perspective, but the peer facilitators who attend have been trained through a secular program. “Our leadership and directions come from psychologists at the VA Medical Center (Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis),” Minnix explains. “They (psychologists) stood by our side, they helped direct us and they helped train us. So, that training is very good for what we do out here.”

The men in the group study books that are aimed at tackling specific issues that veterans face, but what makes the meetings effective is the peer-to-peer discussion time, which happens in an atmosphere rich with empathy.

Big Changes

Though Minnix established his organization in 2005, his efforts to deliver hope began many years prior. Minnix, now 71, recalls how his life experiences have propelled and enabled him to do the work he does today. “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” Minnix is also a plumber (like his brothers, his father and his grandfather), a biblical counselor, a chaplain for the Navy and Marines, a public speaker and a businessman who has served on many boards.

In 1961, when he was 17 years old, Minnix packed his bags and joined the U.S. Marines. On his 18th birthday, he was in cold weather training, sleeping in a tent on Mount Fuji, when his draft notice was delivered during mail call.

Serving in the Fleet Marine Force was a good experience, he says. He spent much of his time traveling aboard ships in the South Pacific, but he found that when his tours of duty ended, he felt lost. “You serve four years in an operation, where your life is controlled by military orders and missions, then all of a sudden, you’re just told, ‘You’ve served your four years. Goodbye. Give us your Liberty Card and go to the bus station and here’s a few dollars. Go home,’” he says. “That’s it.”

He returned to his hometown of Centerville in 1965 but had strayed far from the life he had known as a child. “My parents were Christians and I was raised in the church, but I turned my back on it (religion) and became the crazy guy, basically,” he explains.

Minnix spent the next couple of years hitchhiking through the South, unable to settle down. “I just traveled all over the country and wrote poetry everywhere I went,” he says. “I abbreviated my experiences.”

Minnix no longer knew where he fit in, but he knew he needed to make big changes. “I never met a man who could knock the chip off my shoulder,” he says. “A lot of them tried, and I’ve got the scars to prove it, but I wasn’t going to give up. Only God could knock the chip off my shoulder, and he didn’t think I was worth it.” Those were the thoughts running through Minnix’s mind, he says, as he sped down the highway on a motorcycle going about 75 mph. When a car pulled out in front of him, the crash that followed sent Minnix first to the hospital and then to church, where he dedicated his life to God.

Minnix soon found himself able to utilize his faith, his skills as a plumber and his experience as a veteran to help others who were struggling. He ran a plumbing business while he attended Bible college. As his wounded friends returned home from the Vietnam and Gulf wars, Minnix was motivated to learn more about combat-related experiences, such as flashbacks and sleeplessness. “I studied counseling, philosophy and psychology,” he says. “You have to be a good psychologist to be a good business person anyway, so it just kind of dovetailed. I developed the ministry, but I chose to minister around the world (through mission trips), across the plumbing counter and through the plumbing business rather than through a pulpit.”

As his list of experiences and credentials grew, so did his influence. When a friend suggested that he establish an organization to help returning soldiers, Minnix did so without hesitation.

Old and New Friends

At 96 years old, Paul Totten, peer facilitator for Warrior’s Hope, understands trauma. He served as a combat infantryman in the South Pacific and was held as a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp in 1945. “When I got out of the service, I had battle fatigue; they call it something else now,” he says, referring to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Totten experienced nightmares and was unable to work for a year. “It took me a long time to get adjusted to civilian life,” he says. “Loren thought I would be able to help people going through it now.”

Totten has regularly attended group meetings and has become a friend to many over the years. He also wrote a book about his experiences, “For God, Country and Community: The Life and Times of Paul R. Totten,” which is available at the Warrior’s Hope office, in exchange for a donation to the organization.

The support groups and related services that Warrior’s Hope provides are all free to veterans. Books are purchased, brochures are printed and administrative costs are paid through the generosity of donors, as well as through various fundraisers. “I don’t think we have ever been in the black,” Minnix says. “I help support what we do here. I own this building. If the money’s there, we pay a little rent. If there’s money there, I compensate myself for travel expenses, but I’m not on payroll. We have no paid employees.”

The volunteer-run Warrior’s Hope is in the business of caring for people, and Minnix doesn’t see that need diminishing anytime soon. If anything, he believes more support groups are necessary, as conflict in the world continues to call American men and women to serve.

Prior to settling into the location on Madison Avenue, Warrior’s Hope meetings took place in a variety of locations. Some meetings are still held throughout Indiana, in Geist, Fishers, Columbus and Centerville. Last year, the Warrior’s Hope Greenwood office saw 125 people arrive to receive help.

Most veterans find Warrior’s Hope through word-of-mouth or referrals from partnering organizations, such as Rod & Staff Ministries and Indiana Vet to Vet Inc. Thirty-two-year-old Greg Stevens connected to Warrior’s Hope, thanks to a suggestion from his parents. Stevens spent four years in the Marine Corps infantry from 2002 to 2006. During that time he was deployed for combat three times. When he returned home, Warrior’s Hope became a place of refuge. “The military trains people to go out into combat … but they do not teach you how to handle it when you get back,” he says. Stevens has made several new friends through the Tuesday night meetings. He believes other young veterans could also benefit from the discussions.

Minnix points to the empty chair at the far end of the table. “We had a young guy in his 30s sitting here,” he recalls. “He was talking about flashbacks — sleeplessness and all that — and he said, ‘When am I gonna get over this?’ I said, ‘How old are you?’ He said, ‘30.’ I asked the guy down at this end of the table, ‘How old are you?’ and he said, ‘94.’ I said, ‘When did you get over it?’ He said, ‘Not quite yet.’

“That’s your life now,” Minnix goes on to explain. “I hear people ask me, ‘When am I going to get back to normal?’ Well, this is your new normal. You can’t deny the experience or you’ll live in denial, and you’ll have more problems. So you have to accept what has been dealt to you and figure out how you’re going to handle that.”