As I sit here feeling a bit burned out and frayed, I am doing some reflecting on the year that is nearing its end. It feels like a blink of an eye ago that this year and its hectic schedule was planned and set in place. When I look back at what we accomplished this year, it’s clear to see why I feel so tired and drained. In the last 12 months we have run 17 separate events and worked with hundreds of veterans and many hundreds of family members.
It seems a bit unfair to try and offer clear reflection in the midst of deep exhaustion. A marathon runner or mountain climber can’t fully appreciate the feat they accomplish at the very moment they complete the task but only after life returns to normal. When they start to look back and reflect on all the planning and work that it took to achieve the goal, can they really start to feel the deep satisfaction of what they achieved. So I concede that I need to give myself a bit of grace here so that time can bring the achievements into clearer focus.
From time to time I will get the question of why. Why do I do all this work without pay to serve other veterans and their families? The question seems innocent on the surface but it often has a more offensive undertone of “what’s in this for you”. I’ll be honest, I ask myself this question on occasion but usually only when I am completely spent and in need of a break. Nevertheless, the question of why is inescapable and needs an answer.
The answer is simple, I need the community and the community needs me. As I sat in a truck in the snow covered woods this past Saturday talking with a friend about why I do what I do, I stumbled onto the idea that veterans are a valuable resource. The truth is no one understands more about the needs of the veteran than veterans themselves. The veteran’s point of view is best understood by other veterans. As we sit and watch 22 brothers and sisters a day, end their lives because the burdens our country asks us to bare become too heavy we have an obligation to take care of our brothers and sisters. We have a responsibility to reach out to each other and help carry those burdens when they get too heavy. We know the struggles we each face and we have a God given responsibility to make sure that no one faces their struggles alone.
When I first left the Army in the fall of 2014, I was suffering from a host of issues. I was badly addicted to pain meds, I was in a horrible marriage that was falling apart, I had very strained relationships with my kids, I had just lost the career that I loved, and I was suffering deeply from my lost community of brothers and sisters in the Army. As these issues deepened and became more acute, I started addressing them one by one. My first move was to quit the meds, all of them, cold turkey. It was rough but I made it through. I then ended a very toxic marriage and began to work on my relationships with my kids. The last step was to create an organization that would become my life’s work. The organization provided me the opportunity to create a vibrant community that I could invite my brothers and sisters into to find some rest, enjoyment and tranquility and best of all, community.
I’ll be honest; it wasn’t until I started providing opportunities for community to my fellow veterans that I realized how much I both benefited from and needed the community myself. I have also learned that we veterans and the communities we form are a powerful and needed resource. There is power and beauty in a group of veterans sitting around a fire at the end of a long day of hunting, talking about their time in the service and sharing struggles and burdens with men and women they trust to help them carry their burdens. The true heart of the work I do is a large logistical orchestration to provide moments just like this.
So as I sit here in these moments just after the race for 2018 is over and reflect, I am tired, worn out and I feel a bit undone but I also see the faces of the men and women who have joined my community this year. I think of the moments shared on the river or in the hunting camp or around the fire and I know deep inside that while my physical and mental parts of me are quite tired there is a deeper part of me that has been enriched and brought to life by the community that I have both provided and partaken of.
Founder & President