Silver Lake Dunes,Veterans,Heros,The Heroes Operation,first responders

Heros On The Dunes

A Day to Give Back

For the past ten years, a group of individuals have selflessly given hundreds of hours of their time – unpaid – to plan an event at the Silver Lake Dunes like no other. Sponsors have donated thousands of dollars. Private and public businesses and the community have offered their services, products, materials, support, and energy. They do it with compassion, integrity, and commitment. Their mission is clear, and it can be boiled down to three simple words: To give back.

This is Heroes on the Dunes.

Hosted by The Heroes Operation, the event is meant to honor and show appreciation to Veterans and first responders by fulfilling President Lincoln’s promise: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”

Silver Lake Dunes,Veterans,Heros,The Heroes Operation,first responders

On the third weekend of July for two days, heroes and their families gather in Mears, Michigan to ultimately experience adventure, thrills, laughter, joy, fellowship, and great food at Silver Lake State Park and Val-du-Lakes Bar & Grill.

“The idea is to get the heroes and their families out for an exhilarating day on the dunes and put stress and everyday battles aside. We want everyone to enjoy and relax – with a healthy dose of adrenaline!” said Scott Benedict, Director of The Heroes Operation.

Benedict has been involved in the event for nine of the ten years it has been running, and his passion and energy is inspiring – even palpable.

“I got hooked on riding at Silver Lake in 2005, he said. “I love everything about it, and this event is my day each year to share my happy place with the men and women who put their lives on the line for my freedom or my protection every day. This day is the one day of the year I look forward to the most. It’s my Christmas.”

Silver Lake Dunes,Veterans,Heros,The Heroes Operation,first responders

The History

In 2015, duners Shannon Eifert and Scott Dion decided they wanted to give back in this way and connected with Operation Injured Soldier out of South Lyon.

The first year, the event hosted 25 heroes – disabled Veterans. Year two saw 50 heroes.

Along the way, to further support Heroes on the Dunes, Veteran, Anthony Munafo, and civilians Scott Dion and Janet Dodge came together and started the Heroes Operation as a 501c3 organization, working with Operation Injured Soldier to do so. As such, The Heroes Operations was classified as an educational 501c3 with the purpose of shedding more light on PTSD. The event was opened up to all veterans and first responders, made a break from OIS and is now on its own.

Heroes on the Dunes has grown exponentially each year since. It has become the largest event at Silver Lake. Last year was the biggest yet, with 150 heroes, 500 family members, and 207 volunteers.

Silver Lake Dunes,Veterans,Heros,The Heroes Operation,first responders

The Event

The weekend kicks off on Friday with a Heroes Charity Golf Outing at Benona Shores Golf Course. 

“We created the golf outing as a fun way to raise money and it’s grown from there,” said Benedict.

Following the golf outing will be a car show, which is new for 2024. “Heroes and their families will be able to get an up-close look at the vehicles and meet the drivers they will be riding with the following day, which I think will be fun,” said Benedict.

Friday night brings a free concert and Freedom Friday Fireworks.

“For the last few years, musician and Michigander Kyle Jennings donated his time to perform,” said Benedict. This year’s musical talent is yet to be announced.

Saturday is the main event – it is Dune Day. Says Benedict, “All the heroes and their family members meet at Val-du-Lakes and get into a myriad of 4×4 pickups, jeeps, side-by-sides and do a Parade lap through town. The residents and townfolk line the streets to show their respect and appreciation – it’s really beautiful.”

This is followed by an opening ceremony and flag raising in the ORV area of Silver Lake, and then a flight show put on by the Hooligan Flight Team featuring WWII Bombers.

Heroes then take a parade lap around the dunes and are then joined by their families to take part in a full day of rides and a variety of sand toys.

The day ends with a catered dinner, raffles an auction, and another free concert.

Silver Lake Dunes,Veterans,Heros,The Heroes Operation,first responders

The Team

Heroes on the Dunes is planned by a board of directors, all of whom volunteer many hours each year.

President, Anthony Munafo is referred to as the Air Boss by the team because – as Benedict says – “he is in charge of the ship.” Munafo served five years in the Navy and now runs his own granite business.

Scott Dion is the Vice President and he runs a local business in Silver Lake.

Janet Dodge is the Board’s Secretary. She’s a lifelong resident of Oceana County and a local real estate business owner.

Director, Jeff DeVito is a USPS technician in security and facility maintenance

The two other Directors are Anna Bateson, who works on securing grants for the organization, and Scott Benedict, who manages much of the set-up and tear down of the event and owns third-generation painting business in Ionia County.

The Support

The Heroes on the Dunes event costs approximately $70k, all of which comes from sponsors, donations, shirt sales, and the auction and raffle.

The main sponsors include Silverback Offroad, Schmidt Community Fund, Hooligan’s Flight Team, Val-Du Lakes, and Peterson Farms.

Benedict points to the many businesses and individuals that he says go above and beyond, saying, “The DNR is a great supporter of the event and gives us so much leeway within the park rules. The Silver Lake Recreation Association (SLRA) is another supporter, they come Friday morning and drag my truck and trailer out on the dunes with their big tractor. They then come back Saturday night and help me drag it out. Another big supporter is Ken Morgan and Deer Road Storage, who collected $2,500 in gas cards for the Heroes last year. Another big sponsor is Ted of Silver Lake Wave Club Water Sports. They give out guided pontoon ride on Silver Lake on Sunday to all the Heroes.”

Benedict says there are other sponsors as well, and without them the event wouldn’t happen.

Silver Lake Dunes,Veterans,Heros,The Heroes Operation,first responders

The Why

Benedict says the event is a way to give back, and also to spread awareness of PTSD and suicide prevention by connecting people.

It’s clear that it means so much to him personally. He says, “These heroes and their families have sacrificed so much over their careers, and it warms my heart that we can help them for this one day. Our team and our army of volunteers make these heroes forget about their struggles and let them enjoy a day with their families with little to no cost to them. For the nine years I have been involved with this event, the feeling has not faded. If anything it gets stronger every year.

In addition to the car show, the 2024 event will include a new “Mini Heroes” activation at Val-Du Lakes that will include lots of games and activities for the kids.

In closing, Benedict sums everything up by saying, “The months of planning, the hours of set up, and the money spent is a lot, but it all goes away the second the first shuttle truck arrives on the dunes. Then when we start giving rides and we have families hooting and hollering, screaming “This is the best ride ever!” – that’s a feeling that words cannot describe. It’s priceless.”

The event grows every year, and the team is always looking for sponsors and volunteers. If you have a desire to give back and become one of our sponsors, please reach out to scottieb@theheroesoperation.org.

It takes a lot of heart to give back to those who have sacrificed so much. If you would like to become a volunteer or register as a Hero, you can do so at theheroesoperation.org.

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