VAIL " After skiing in Vail one afternoon last April, the Buscher family headed to the legendary Red Lion bar-restaurant in the village, where their then 11-year-old son Barrett decided to perform a song on stage for the apres-ski crowd.
"We thought he was going to get up there and sing some cover song," said Melanie Buscher, Barrett's mother.
But unbeknownst to his family, Barrett had stayed up until midnight one school night to finish a new song he'd been working on.
He strummed his guitar and sang about something that has weighed heavily on him for years, something he couldn't get out of his head.
"Look around, see the world shatterin' into pieces," he sang.
"What are we supposed to do? Can you tell me now?"
As Barrett played, the rowdy room grew quieter. Within a few moments, he arrived at the chorus.
"Cause war ain't the answer," he sang. "I said, cause war ain't the answer."
The place was silent by the time he finished.
And then suddenly the room erupted as people stood and applauded this middle-schooler with a heavy heart for the images he'd seen on TV of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I realized that they shared the message," Barrett said. "That was a pretty great experience for me."
Touched by the depth of Barrett's song, the reaction it inspired among a random crowd of skiers, and the military legacy of their family, the Buschers were moved to do something to help U.S. soldiers and at the same time support a quick but realistic end to the war.
The more they researched, the more they realized how ill-prepared the government is to pay for the health care and social services for veterans back from the Middle East.
The Buschers came across a recent Harvard study estimating the lifetime care costs of soldiers returning home injured from Iraq and Afghanistan to be in the neighborhood of $350 billion.
Around 50,000 soldiers have already become injured or fallen ill during these wars.
"We are asking so much of them, but our leaders are not doing right by them," Melanie said.
"We can't forget about our soldiers."
As the Cordillera-based family, including Melanie's husband Rod, who is the CEO of Summit Automotive Partners, and their 18-year-old son Alex, brainstormed how to accomplish this task, Melanie came across her POW bracelet from Vietnam.
In the 1970s, two sorority sisters sold nearly 5 million mail-order POW bracelets, which demonstrated support for the sacrifices of our soldiers in Vietnam.
The family decided to reinstate the idea, designing bracelets that read "SOS," which stands for Save Our Soldiers.
The Buschers grew the concept into a non-partisan nonprofit called Project Save Our Soldiers with an executive board in Denver and a website devoted to selling bracelets and raising awareness about the needs of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.
"We are not political," said Melanie, who has a background in journalism and marketing.
"We are looking at the situation now. Here we are. What can we do going forward to help these soldiers?"
The mission of the bracelet project is three-fold. When people purchase bracelets for $10 online, proceeds go toward special assistance programs for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
The executive board carefully vets these organizations, making certain the money goes to nonprofit groups with low administrative costs. Secondly, wearing the bracelets until our troops come home demonstrates appreciation for the sacrifices they've made.
In addition, the bracelets show support for a "swift and sensible" end to the war.
"For the first time, Americans can support the soldiers, be patriotic and still say, 'Hey, you guys in Washington, work together to come up with a plan,'" Melanie said.
The organization's website went live June 29 and has already hauled in more than $10,000 from bracelet sales and donations.
"It's been a real journey and a real learning experience for us," Melanie said.
She said the organization hopes to remain a grassroots effort. It can even be found on YouTube and Facebook, and word is spreading.
Recently, the owner of Kidtopia, a toy store in Eagle, offered to carry the bracelets. The store would be the first retail outlet to sell them.
Most of the organization's start-up costs, such as attorney and accountant's fees and creative work were donated, and the effort has been mostly volunteer based.
Production companies in Boulder and Denver even created a pro-bono recording and video of Barrett singing his song, "Wake Up (War Ain't the Answer)," a prominent feature of Project Save Our Soldier's home page.
Eventually Melanie said they'd like to get a well-known musician to record the song, then package the CD alongside the bracelets, something she called a "pie-in-the-sky goal."
For now, they're just happy with the positive responses and financial support they've already received.
"I hope we sell a lot of bracelets," Barrett said.
For more information about Project Save Our Soldiers or to purchase a bracelet, go online at: www.projectsaveoursoldiers.org.
Julia Connors can be reached at (970) 668-4620.