Following the death of his wife, former US Marshal and Green Beret Rick Iannucci returned to Santa Fe from special mission unit work in Colombia to retire and care for his three children. Here he founded and runs a 4H club, Turquoise Trail Wranglers, which is featured this month in Western Horseman magazine. He plans to utilize the club’s amenities and members for another of his efforts, Horses for Heroes, a program to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
SFR: How did someone with your background end up running a 4H?
RI: Coming from my background, it was a good fit. Because that’s what I did: I trained leaders when I was in my various former lives. And I thought we could do the same thing here, and there was a need here. There was no arena that was dedicated to kids in Santa Fe County. I’ve got the land and I had the inclination and I had the designs.
How does training kids to ride horses correlate to making them into leaders?
You have to have a hook to get kids. It can’t just be, ‘You’re gonna be leaders and here’s what you do.’ You can’t lecture them. So the horses are the medium and leadership is the message. All the skill sets that are needed to do ranch work, we combine that and, within that, the respect and mentorship that we do is the example of the leadership that we want these kids to follow. They see us at work; they see cowboys doing what cowboys do and how we are with one another.
Does that concept translate to those with PTSD in your Horses for Heroes program?
I think it was Winston Churchill who said, ‘The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.’ I think horses are majestic and magical creatures. I’ve learned more from horses than I think I have from people, because what horses do is they put you in a situation where you’re quiet. When you find that quiet spot and that enters inside you, it’s not a frantic feeling, it’s a calm feeling. You become one; you become balanced.
Have you ever experienced PTSD?
I don’t think so. I’ve always tried to go back to my spiritual roots. I was raised Catholic in a very
contemplative household…When asked how [she and her siblings] were raised, my daughter says, ‘My dad’s a Zen Catholic.’ It’s the way you look at things.
Studies say up to 35 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan vets are coming home with PTSD. Has this always been the case?
Part of the problem with today is the operational tempo of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan is so intense for these guys now…The average combat vet in World War II served a total of 120 days of his whole tour, of the whole war, in actual combat. Now these guys get off the plane in Iraq or Afghanistan and they’re in combat for 90 straight days, and then they do four tours of that at a time and they do it for 18 months at a crack.
So people aren’t just more aware of PTSD, it’s actually more common?
In the old days, if you got hit, you may have died…Nowadays our triage—God bless our medical people—is so efficient that…a guy that in past wars would die on the front lines is now coming back. Not only does he have the physical wound, he’s back in the states at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] in a couple weeks, going, ‘What the hell happened to me?’
In Oregon this month, a vet accused of murder was found guilty by reason of insanity. Does the decision reflect a shift in the public conception of PTSD?
…With the 24 hour news schedule, at 3 in the morning I’m watching an attack that happened minutes ago in Iraq. It’s given all of us collectively, as a community, a little more information and understanding of, ‘Wow, this is what’s happening over there. No wonder these guys are coming back [like this]’…Everybody now knows somebody that’s been there and knows what they’ve been through, so there’s a lot more community understanding.
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