The first thing I notice in running river support for a group of 20 veterans and staff with Team River Runners (TRR) – many of them combat veterans – is the campfire talk is a bit different. It’s one thing to hear about a war in the news; it’s another to listen to people who have been attacked leading the charge.
One veteran on a late September trip through Ruby Horse Thief and Westwater Canyons on the Colorado River spoke of four tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. Interesting was that he was of obvious Persian background , a second or third generation American whom, I suppose , must have stood out as a target on the battlefield. He had been shot twice in his six deployments. Whe n I asked him and another combat veteran who were sitting together why they returned s o frequently for additional tours, they looked at each other as if deciding whether I would understand their answer . I think that I was a Vietnam War era Navy veteran was the reason they filled me in . The Pers ian- decent veteran spoke quietly.
“You look at who is taking over leading your troops and you have to go back. It was our job to protect our men for as long as we could,” he said, his friend nodding in agreement.
This same esprit de corp s is evident in every aspect of how veterans participate d in our river trip. As a volunteer with Colorado Discover Ability, a Grand Junction, Colorado-based nonprofit that provides outdoor recreation experiences for disa bled clients, including vets, I was among five CDA members manning three rafts carrying food and camping gear for the TRR group Not every veteran in the group , including myself, had served in a war zone. Some had disabilities suffered in peacetime accidents. But veterans stick together and nowhere is that more evident than in the wilderness, which is a main strategy for Team River Runners to help vets overcome PTSS and to find ways in to socialize better in society. Established in 2004 by kayakers in Washington D.C. to help wounded Iraq and Afghanistan vets who were recovering at Walter Reed Army Me dical Center, it has grown to an expanding nationwide network of chapters serv ing all vets and their families on America’s rivers, lakes and oceans. This September trip was a milestone in that it marked the first joint expedition between TRR and CDA, which has outstanding access to western rivers.
“The trip was a natural extension of our mission to provide outdoor recreation opportunities to people with disabilities,” said Ron Lunsford, Program Director with CDA . “It was a continuation of work with the local Grand Junction VA, which participates in our winter skii ng program. With the national TRR contacts we’ve made through the local VA, we able to expand these premiere rafting and kayak venues to vets from other parts of the country.” The group included veterans from Michigan, Utah and Colorado, as well as representatives from TRR national and local chapters.
“The trip was a learning opportunity for us and it went well enough that we are p l anning up to half a dozen more trips with TRR next year during the river season,” Lunsford added.
If your local paddling community would like to get involved with Team River Runners, contact Dave Robey at [email protected] r iv errunners.org or through their website at http://www.teamriverrunner.org
There is also a great video out that showcases their work, https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152961048542873&set=vb.57634002872&type=3&theater
John W . Mitchell is freelance writer on a wide range of topics from healthcare to craft beer . He lives on south side of The Western Slope in Cedaredge , Colorado. He is a ski and rafting volunteer with Colorado Discover Ability and he will publish his first novel “Medical Necessity” in 2015. You can read more of his writing at http://snowpackpr.com/portfolio3