Colt Romberger’s father had a saying, “When life hands you manure, make fertilizer.”
That off-the-wall piece of advice has become part of Colt’s everyday life. It is why, on May 1, 2017, he’ll begin riding his horse, Teddy, 3,000 miles across the country to raise awareness for Vietnam veterans suffering from Agent Orange Syndrome.
Exposure to Agent Orange, a chemical used in the Vietnam War to clear vegetation, has affected the lives of more than 400,000 veterans. Among those veterans was U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant and Colt’s father, Cliff Romberger.
Next to raising a family, Cliff dedicated his life to wrangling horses. His love and understanding of the majestic animal allowed him to easily train them to be showcased in reenactments, law enforcement, television and film.
Since Colt was a child, his father instilled in him his deep love for horses.
In 1999, Cliff and Colt were participating in a reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg when a casting representative spotted Colt and asked if he’d like to audition for the movie The Patriot. Cliff agreed it was a great opportunity. The two were selected to be in the militia unit that rode with Mel Gibson.
When Cliff began receiving hospice services, it was a scary next step for Colt and his sister, Honesta (pictured left), but it couldn’t have been a better blessing.
“You really put your faith and trust in these people to care for someone you love in ways you can’t do yourself,” Honesta said. “They really bent over backwards to adjust to my dad’s strong will and independence.”
Fortunately, with hospice, the family had more time to focus on building good memories.
One of Cliff’s last wishes was to get back in the saddle again. Hospice staff contacted the Capital Area Therapeutic Riding Association, and with Colt and Honesta by his side, Cliff rode a horse one last time before he passed away in September 2015 from a brain disease associated with exposure to Agent Orange.
Cliff always dreamed of riding horseback across the country, which inspired Colt’s trip in honor of Vietnam veterans in May. On his six-month journey from coast to coast, he will meet hundreds of veterans and share their stories through video testimonials. Follow along on his journey by visiting expeditionorange.org.
His original plan was to meet his father at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., at the end of his ride. Although that’s no longer in the plan, he knows his father will be with him in spirit.
“When I told him my plan, he couldn’t really speak anymore, but he did give me a big thumbs up,” Colt recalls. “I’m doing this ride for my father, but I’m also doing it for every other veteran out there.”
A U.S. Air Force Iraq War veteran himself, Colt knows when he starts a mission, he’s obligated to complete it.
“This was something I promised my father, so for me, there’s no turning back. I’m fulfilling his biggest bucket list item, and I know he’d be proud.”