James Ferguson would say that the creation of his organization, Warrior Reunion Foundation, all happened by accident, but many of the best things tend to happen that way.
During his six years of service as a Marine Officer (2013-2017), Ferguson completed a combat deployment to Afghanistan in 2010 where he led a unit of Marines in the Kajaki region of Helmand Province. For the next almost eight months, Ferguson said he and his team got to do everything he joined the Marine Corps to do. At times, it was very rewarding for Ferguson, but at other times, it was less than so.
“[The deployment] was tough in the sense of what we would call a very kinetic environment in the military — daily engagements with the enemy and other very tough missions,” Ferguson said. “About 25 percent of the unit was wounded and we had five of our members killed in action. So we had a lot of tough experiences and things that really bonded us very closely together as a group.”
Service was always something Ferguson was planning to incorporate into his life one way or another. Ferguson’s mother and her family immigrated to the United States to escape the Soviet invasion of her home country in Hungary in 1956. On his dad's side, Ferguson’s grandfather was an Irish immigrant who served in World War II and was awarded the Silver Star, his dad served in the Marines, and two of his brothers also served. For Ferguson, there was a nice mix of military history, and also being new to [the United States] and really valuing what we have here, that contributed to his desire to serve his country.
But then on September 11, 2001, The World Trade Centers collapsed after two terrorist-hijacked airplanes crashed into them, and that hit close to home for Ferguson, literally. From a beach that was just 10 minutes away from his house on Long Island, Ferguson and others watched as the situation unfolded. Looking across, Ferguson described only being able to see smoke coming out of New York City, and he knew then and there that he wanted to serve and defend his country. All Ferguson had left to do was choose a branch.
“I was just trying to see which branch was going to be the greatest challenge,” Ferguson said. “The Marines Corps were the only branch that didn't offer some kind of incentive to join. The Marines were basically like, ‘Hey, come try out, and if you have what it takes, maybe we'll let you be a Marine.” And that was exciting to me. I liked that challenge and that ability to totally earn something on merit and have to earn it for yourself is something that nobody could ever take from you.”
When Ferguson’s combat deployment ended shortly before the holidays that year, about 75 percent of his unit had either received orders for a new assignment or had left active duty, and didn’t really get the chance to process what they had just experienced together in a way he felt they needed to. Having no one to turn to, Ferguson decided it was time to reunite with his former unit brothers.
“[We were] really no longer around each other,” Ferguson said. “We kept in touch through a private Facebook group and different people texting each other, and that kind of thing, but my goal was to get the unit back together at the five-year mark of our deployment. So I started planning a reunion just for my unit, thinking that it would just be a one-off thing for my guys; something that we needed and I wanted to see them again.”
Ferguson explained how the reunion was helpful for him from an emotional perspective and how it was also beneficial for a lot of people who attended. Seeing the positive response from the reunion he organized, Ferguson began to think about all the other combat units who have gone through similar experiences and decided that other units deserved the same kind of recognition.
“Here we are years later having done 40 reunions for other very deserving units, and reconnecting members of those units and their gold star families,” Ferguson said. “I really think the Warrior Reunion Foundation is having a tremendous impact.”
Photo credits: James Ferguson