The Warrior Retreat at Bull Run’s Visiting Chef Program

Warrior Retreat at Bull Run
16013 Waterfall Rd.
Haymarket, VA 20169


The stress of endless medical appointments, medications, and therapy wears on our Wounded Warriors draining almost every ounce of energy from them. Many plan and wait a month or more to come to the retreat for its promise of rest and relaxation. The drive from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to the retreat seems to take forever. In the final miles and as they turn into the driveway and see the retreat for the first-time thoughts of hospitals and therapy fade away.

They have seen the web page, read the brochure, and heard great things about the retreat from their Guest Stay Coordinator, but the best is yet to come. Most do not understand how hard retreat staff and volunteers work to give them the gift of memories of good times and normalcy. Memories of their first massage, their first helicopter ride, their first symphony concert, a professional photo shoot to capture the joy of a stress-free stay at the retreat as a family. One of the most memorable events of their stay is Visiting Chef Night on Sunday. Diner is prepared by world class chefs from around the region who volunteer to come to the retreat and prepare extraordinary meals for the families. Most families describe it as the best food they have eaten.

DSC_0010(L to R) PO2 Sierra Tyler, USN and FS1 Jason T. Rohrs, Coast Guard – Enlisted Aides/Chefs to General Joseph Dunford, the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with retreat Executive Event Chef Ken Gardner, Sous Chef Jim Cole, and a Warrior’s son.

In our mission to make the family’s stay special we created the Visiting Chef Program to introduce families to the restorative properties of fine food. We also believe it offers chefs a way to give back doing the thing they love and that they will quickly learn what many SOWW volunteers know, working with Wounded Warriors and their families is an extraordinarily rewarding experience.


Today we have 49 volunteer chefs from some of the finest restaurants. Besides restaurant and catering chefs, top military chefs have joined the program. They include FS1 Jason T. Rohrs, USCG Chef to General Joseph Dunford, the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, CS1 Patrick Parigi, USN Chef to the Commander, Naval Reactors/Propulsion, CSC (SW) Matthew P. Susienka, USN Executive Chef to the Commander Naval Service Training Command, MSgt. Jennifer L Medeiros, USAF Chef to the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and MSgt. Sarah L Morgan, USAF Chef to the Air Force Chief of Staff.

The success of the Visiting Chef Program is due to three chefs who contribute selflessly. Volunteer Staff Sous Chef Jim Cole is there assisting the visiting chef almost every Sunday. Volunteer Executive Event Chef Ken Gardner is the Lead Chef on every SOWW event and serves as a back-up Sous Chef. And Chef Benedict Zappone who has prepared meals for Warriors ten times. He comes out on dates where no other chef is available, like Mother’s Day and Christmas Day.


The Visiting Chef Program is much more than exceptional food. For countless families, it is an introduction to farm-to-table cuisine they are not likely to experience on their own. Many cannot afford dining at the chefs’ restaurants. Most of our Warrior guests suffer from PTS and have not been to a restaurant in years. The noise and commotion of a busy restaurant can overwhelm them. The Visiting Chef Program brings that personalized 5-star dining experience to them at the retreat.

My Daddy My Hero Dessert Plate

Many Warriors and family members of all ages don an apron and love the opportunity to help and learn from the chef. The Visiting Chef Program strives to create fond memories that last a lifetime for the families. One of my favorite dinners was for the late Sergeant Scott Adkins who lost his battle with cancer not long after his family stayed at the retreat. The chef taught his daughters how to write with raspberry dessert sauce. I’ll never forget the smile that came to Sergeant Adkins face when his daughter put down his dessert and the plate read “My Daddy My Hero.” It’s not only the families receiving warm memories.