I served in the military at a time when our public persona was tarnished, to say the least. This never effected me while on active duty however when I moved into a non‐military world I found it best to keep my experiences and opinions to myself. It seemed a popular conclusion for the veterans of that era and thought I was fine with it for many years. I started to realize something wasn’t right when my two sons grew up, left home and my wife and I divorced. So now I pack up and move from the east coast to Colorado. Start hiking, rock climbing, skiing having fun. Still I felt different, lacked purpose and couldn’t put my finger on it. So I went to the VA for an attitude adjustment. That is when I was introduced to Outward Bound.
I went on a course in Leadville with a group of old Vietnam warriors and a therapist from the Denver Vet Center. There was something very familiar about being with this group of veterans who shared similar experiences to mine. We hiked, climbed, did the high ropes coarse, land navigation all skills I had originally learned in the military and used afterwards but never with this type group. I felt I was home, even with the Marines. We worked together as a team doing everything from challenges to KP using terms only we understood and happily explaining them to the instructors. And although I’ve always been proud of my military career, this was different. I could be myself with people who really knew what that was and never felt the need to explain myself. At some point, I’m not sure exactly when, what I call the magic took over and I realized what had been missing in my life for so long.
I went to Outward Bound and said, ”I need to be part of this”. They allowed me to volunteer on a course. Helping the young veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom were wounded in combat, defined for me what I want to do with the rest of my life. Helping them view their military experience as a positive part of their life will make dealing with anything that life throws at them manageable.
I’ve had the honor of laughing, crying and enjoying the company of what I consider the most incredible people on the planet. Not all have served in the military but all have served veterans and for me that is special. Two things said after a burly day of hiking and a heart wrenching remembrance ceremony by veterans; “ 5 years after deployment I finally feel someone understands what I’m saying” and “ I now feel the confidence to do something I never thought I would do, introduce my two sons and wife to the joys of the wilderness”.
I’ve instructed veterans from Maine to Joshua Tree, the Boundary Waters to Five Rivers Alabama and places in between. It never gets old, I am constantly learning and when I hear something profound in a way I had not considered and the magic starts to flow, I stand a little taller, stick my chest out a little further and feel the pride of having serving in the United States Army and of continuing to serve with and through Outward Bound. This magic has extended to other parts of my life but that is another story.