"I want it to be military, but I don't want it to be like they're waking up to 'Reveille' every morning."

CHOCTAW BEACH — Jerry Maulden doesn't know exactly what got him thinking about installing a weekend getaway cabin for veterans on his two-acre property near Choctawhatchee Bay, but he reckons it might be the time he spent at Dover Air Force Base during Operation Desert Storm.

While serving in the Air Force Reserve, Maulden was a witness to some of the nearly 150 battle deaths in the 1991 operation in which American troops responded to Iraq's invasion of neighboring Kuwait. He was among the troops who saw the bodies of the fallen as they were brought back to American soil through the Delaware base aboard military transport planes.

"I think it was the mortuary deal that did it," Maulden said on a recent morning, standing in the interior of the now-bare-bones prefabricated wooden building he hopes will become a vacation spot for veterans and their families.

Maulden said that during his time at Dover AFB, he would see the fallen soldiers and think that while he couldn't do anything for them, he could do something for their brothers and sisters in arms.

"They had friends that were in the military," Maulden said.

That thought, he explained, prompted him to consider what he might do for "everyday veterans." That's his term for troops who served for a few years, or a career, without receiving the special recognition that goes to troops who are wounded or give their lives for their country.

Thus far, Maulden has spent nearly $28,000 of his savings — he's retired from the state of Florida and from his Air Force Reserve and U.S. Army service — on the dream he has for his shady wooded property on Persimmon Street a couple of blocks from Choctawhatchee Bay.

"With $5,000 and a couple of friends, I could probably finish it up," Maulden said.

In addition to the prefabricated wooden building — a high-roofed 11-by-32-foot structure outfitted with sleeping lofts at either end, with American flag bunting already installed in the windows — the money has gone to a large deck suitable for cookouts or parties. Scattered around the deck and the prefabricated building are sets of metal and concrete outdoor furniture that could also become part of Maulden's dream for his woody and shaded acreage.

Also part of Maulden's investment are a Quonset hut in which guests could park their cars, and a small wooden building that Maulden would like to turn into a Base Exchange. The exchange wouldn't be a real store, Maulden said, but would be designed to look like one. The Quonset hut and the "base exchange" are part of Maulden's plan to make his planned retreat look at least something like a military base.

"I want it to be military," he said, "but I don't want it to be like they're waking up to 'Reveille' every morning."

Maulden's enthusiasm for the project is infectious, but he's enough of a realist to recognize that in addition to running short on money, he's running short on the expertise he's discovering will be needed to turn his dream for the Choctaw Ridge Joint Military Retreat into a reality.

"I am almost ignorant to what I'm doing," Maulden admitted as he talked through a list of the things he wants or needs for the retreat, from materials and labor to the furnishings and appliances he hopes will transform the wooden building into a welcoming weekend home away from home for veterans with honorable or general discharges.

Beyond materials, Maulden is starting to recognize that there are logistical concerns for the Choctaw Ridge Joint Military Retreat, particularly with regard to handling bookings for the three-day weekends he wants to offer to veterans for the token cost of a penny a day per person.

"That way, they can say they're paying their own way," Maulden said. And, he added, the pennies woudl be a handy way for him to keep track of the number of guests he's hosted at Choctaw Ridge.

Clearly, then, it's not money that Maulden wants as he struggles to make his dream a reality. He hadn't thought much about creating a nonprofit organization through which to operate the retreat, he said, and he's not at all interested in seeking out government or private foundation grants to help fund the venture.

What he really needs, he said, are sponsors willing to provide goods and services on either a one-time or a continuing basis.

"I don't want any money to change hands," he said.

Beyond constructing and equipping the retreat, Maulden sees a need for things like printing services to help spread the word locally about Choctaw Ridge, computer services for promoting the retreat online and handling reservations, and whatever else he may not have thought about to get and keep his dream up and running.

Maulden is eager to get as much advice and assistance as he can, and is asking anyone who might be able to help to call (850) 865-9656 and leave a message detailing how they'd like to help.  

Whatever happens with his search for outside help, if the Choctaw Ridge Joint Military Reservation does become a reality, Maulden will continue to have both a personal and a financial stake in its operations. He'll be providing cleaning and other guest services, he said, and he'll also be covering water and electricity costs for the additional structures on his property.

"I'm a little bit of a slacker when it comes to going to church," he explained as he surveyed the sun-dappled land where his dream is slowly taking shape, if teetering a bit on the hard edge of reality.

"This is my way of tithing," he said. 

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