Our military veterans have taken to nature as a form of therapy from all they’ve endured as warriors on the front lines of our military. Many have stated that the comfort they find in the outdoors has brought them the healing that conventional therapy has not.
I reached out to a couple of veterans and asked them to share with me, why they have turned to the outdoors as their place of solace.
Stacy Bare of Sierra Club Outdoors http://www.sierraclub.org/topics/military-outdoors joined the Army in 2000. After he came home from stints in Bosnia, Baghdad and Iraq, just to name a few, the outdoors became a place of healing for him.
Stacy, why has the outdoors been such a haven for you? Nature doesn’t care who you are, so you’re accepted one on one with the universe and most of the people I go outside with are stoked I’m there, vs. worrying about how hard I climb or how far I hike. There are different days with different objectives and I enjoy the variety of opportunity. The other really key thing is the people you meet, like you! I wouldn’t know Teresa Baker if I never knew a hiking trail and my life would be far poorer without you and the thousands of other people I’ve met. A simple smile on the trail from a stranger, a few encouraging words, sharing a moment with a friend, a stranger, and a grizzly bear is all pretty amazing and it creates trust–something that is hard to do in our often busy, hectic lives.
What can outdoor adventurers do to bring a more diverse audience to outdoor activities? We need to be intentional in our networks to push our boundaries into new places to meet new people and get to know people who are different than we are. We like going to new places and meeting new people, but we often forget to do that in our home communities. Then we need to invite those people out with us. We need to talk with them, ask what they want to do in the outdoors, learn about their experiences, and go have fun together outside. I’m lucky I guess that when I go outside with my brothers and sisters I served with, it’s naturally a lot more diverse in the veteran community then perhaps in some folks everyday experience, but I don’t go out with only veterans. Critically: we need to meet new people, be friendly, listen, and invite.
It’s building that trust and making sure we’re looking to build relationships vs. win achievements for having friends that look or act or think differently than we do.
If you could do just 1 thing, to bring more attention to veterans and their need for outdoor recreation, what would it be? We’re doing it! Research and monitoring and evaluation of what we’re doing so we can prove what we already know: TIME OUTSIDE FUNDAMENTALLY MAKES YOUR LIFE BETTER!
I also reached out to Sean Gobin of Warrior Hike ,http://warriorhike.org/ a program he founded in 2012, after returning home from three combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Sean Gobin hiked all 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Recognizing the therapeutic effects of long distance hiking, Sean created the “Walk Off The War” Program which is designed to support veterans transitioning from their military service by thru-hiking America’s National Scenic Trails.
Sean, how has being outdoors in nature been therapeutic for you? “The outdoors gave me the opportunity to decompress from my military service and come to terms with my wartime experiences while learning to use the outdoors as an alternative form of therapy.”
What is required in order for a Veteran to participate in Warrior Hikes? “Any veteran who has served in a combat zone and who has been honorably discharged is qualified to participate in the Warrior Hike “Walk Off The War” Program.”
Why has Warrior Hikes been successful for Veteran where other resources may not have been? “Some veterans have a hard time talking about their experiences with counselors and find it easier to open with fellow veterans while hiking in the outdoors. Also, the side effects of medication therapy are sometimes worse the symptoms of post-traumatic stress.”
It is obvious that the healing powers of nature are at play here. As I’ve always said, nature welcomes all, no matter our race, background or status in life. If we embrace the serenity that is nature, it will embrace us. We gain far more from our experiences in nature than we realize. It’s more than just time spent hiking a trail or pitching a tent, it’s a mental connection with a space that offers refuge from our daily routine of gathering “things.” and tending to agendas.