The family of fallen Shelter Island native and U.S. Army 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert has had a banner year at Strongpoint Theinert Ranch, the non-profit veterans retreat and bridge program they launched on their 1,000-acre property in Magdalena, New Mexico in 2016 to honor the memory of their son and brother. And it’s only the beginning of what’s to come.
After COVID stopped programming in 2020 and 2021, Strongpoint Theinert Ranch (STR) came back better than ever in 2022 with four successful veterans retreats between April and August, the addition of new therapeutic programming, an outdoor gym and, most notably, the completion of their first major capital project — a large barracks (or bunkhouse) that has greatly expanded and improved upon what they can offer veterans in need at no cost.
All of it, too, keeps the name and legacy of 1st Lt. Theinert alive and burning bright more than a decade after the 24-year-old soldier was killed by an IED in Afghanistan on June 4, 2010.
Strongpoint Ferry Cruise
While the weather is still beautiful, the Theinert family is hosting a unique Ferry Cruise party off Shelter Island next Saturday, September 24 from 4–8 p.m. to celebrate this auspicious first year back, and raise funds to help even more veterans in 2023.
“It’s an event that we have done pretty much since 2010,” STR president Jimbo Theinert explained, noting that the Ferry Cruise party is always aboard the Lt. Joe Theinert, a South Ferry vessel that the Clark family, who own it, recommissioned in his older brother’s name about a month after he was killed. “The Clark family wanted to do that because Joe had worked on the boat and they appreciated his sacrifice,” he says, recalling the outpouring of love and generosity toward his family after the unthinkable happened.
Early on, before the Ferry Cruise was a fundraiser for STR, Theinert says the boat would leave Shelter Island with a bunch of people (and no cars) on board, travel to Greenport, and then dock at Claudio’s where the party would continue thanks to another generous supporter, Claudio’s then-manager Steve Pisacano. That eventually changed, and now, back for the first time since 2019, the boat simply heads out on the water for a 4-hour sunset cruise, making it one of the most memorable local benefits one could attend.
“We’ll have 150 people aboard the Lt. Joe with live music and drinks, dancing and give people an opportunity to hear a little bit about Strongpoint and what we’re doing — typical fundraiser stuff,” Theinert said last week, adding that Shelter Island’s own Sara Mundy and other local musicians will provide the evening’s soundtrack. “It’s a big floating party deck, dance floor. We’ll throw some tables and chairs on for people. We’ll have some passed hors d’oeuvres and beer and wine with local musicians. It’s a pretty unique fundraiser. Not a lot of these cocktail parties happen on a ferry boat.”
Theinert said the Ferry Cruises began with mostly friends and family. They attempted to scale it up at one point to better support the ranch, but they’re going back to basics for this first year back.
“It’s really going to be friends and family plus a wider net of people who are in the loop with the ranch,” he said, noting that guests this year will include anyone who wants to support the cause, along with a number of veterans who have found help and relief at STR retreats. “It’s a great opportunity to meet some of the people who are experiencing the ranch, get some firsthand testimonials, but also just connect,” he continued.
A Year of Big Strides at Strongpoint Theinert Ranch
This year, Theinert said he and his family first went to the ranch in February to check out the finished barracks, which was years in the making between raising funds and construction. “It totally overwhelmed us, honestly,” he recalled.
While they once slept 8–9 veterans in the main house and put others on the back deck or in a big tent, the barracks can now comfortably accommodate all retreat participants.
“We had 18 or 19 people under one roof, which is far and away bigger than anything we ever did out of my parents’ house,” Theinert said of this summer’s retreats. “The group sizes are a little bit larger and I think the summer felt way more effective being that the program was executed in a space that was specifically designed for it,” he continued, also noting, “The communal aspect of everything we’re trying to do is so much more cohesive having everybody under one roof.”
STR had four groups come through the ranch this year, starting in April with a volunteer group of both veterans and civilians — “different handy people from the East End” — who helped build all the bunkbeds and everything else needed to get the remaining summer retreats up and running.
They also added an equine therapy program at the ranch thanks to a partnership with Diana O’Donnell, president of United Reins of America (unitedreins.org), a Manorville-based nonprofit that uses horses to help veterans and first responders struggling with addiction at no cost.
Theinert’s stepfather, STR vice president Dr. Francis Kestler, led a “leadership retreat” in July for older men, including Vietnam veterans and officers who had achieved ranks as high as colonel. While these high ranking officers don’t always see the direct combat that so many soldiers can’t shake, Theinert said they can suffer survivor’s guilt for giving the orders that lead to the deaths of their men.
“Joe’s XO (executive officer) was on the leadership retreat and he shared openly about how much he struggled that he gave Joe the order that ultimately ended his life,” Theinert said, explaining that the officer had wrestled with this burden throughout the 12 years since his brother died. “I think he had a tremendous release in visiting the ranch and getting to experience the program that we built, and knowing that Joe’s legacy lives on in the work that we’re doing,” he added.
In the second week of August, Theinert and STR treasurer Dan Kelly, a Southampton native and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, facilitated a men’s retreat which included guys from Dawgpatch Bandits Inc. (dawgpatchbandits.com) — a Sag Harbor nonprofit promoting fitness as a tool to support substance abuse and mental health recovery — who helped build the outdoor gym. They also continued piloting their equine program, and it proved to be beneficial for the vets.
Finally, STR concluded the summer with their first all-women’s veteran retreat, which fully integrated the equine therapy and was a win on all fronts.
What’s Next for Strongpoint
Theinert said he hopes to do even more at STR in 2023, so fundraisers like the Ferry Cruise are vital for making that happen. Veterans pay nothing to attend and costs are around $750 per participant.
“We’re going to go where our people need us, and inevitably we’re going to end up putting together programs that are super helpful to a lot of people,” he said. “Our program is pretty amazing and we’re going to find people. Sourcing participants, fortunately or unfortunately, is not going to be an issue. There’s lots of people within the military community who need help and we’re going to get to them as best we can.”
Visit strongpointtheinert.org to learn more about Strongpoint Theinert Ranch and to get tickets for the Ferry Cruise.