Dear Veterans Nonprofits: Sometimes I Just Want To Go Rock Climbing

Opinion
Spc. Glen Mallett, with the Maine Army National Guard’s B Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment (Mountain), kicks off the rock face while repelling at Eagles Bluff, a cliff area in Maine with rock faces up to 200 feet in height
U.S. Army National Guard/Spc. Jarod Dye

I stared at the bare rock face, harnessed up with ropes and carabiners, wondering where to start my climb. I had become overweight and inflexible since my separation from the Army in 2007, yet I was determined to climb up to the top of this short cliff. All of the other veterans who were watching cheered me on and shouted out pointers: “There is a hold to the right of your hand! Put your foot on that ledge!”


The experience, a 2015 rock climbing expedition in upstate New York, had been fun so far, the kind of fun veterans experience when among other veterans, that immediate comfort level we instantly share. This was the kind of veteran’s retreat like many designed to help us heal from our traumatic experiences. Immediately, we bonded through our connections and shared experiences as service members. I did not succeed in climbing to the top that day, but I tried my best and enjoyed encouraging others in the group. That night, as we camped in a remote area, we built a campfire and gathered to share jokes, mishaps, and accomplishments from the day.

We were in full jokester mode until one of our leaders asked us to get serious for a moment.

Anyone who had been on a therapeutic veterans retreat knew this moment well. These outdoor adventures had to have some grander meaning, and tonight’s task was to examine our lives in relation to overcoming the literal rock obstacles of the day. One by one, we were expected to relate a painful past experience from our service to a specific challenge from the day as a form of therapy for our damaged selves.

I guess the idea behind the outdoor adventure was that we would all find ourselves and be comforted by nature. I just wanted to go rock climbing.

As a post-9/11 military veteran, you could make a full-time job out of indulging in the dozens of services offered that help with our transition into the civilian world, especially by nonprofits that specifically serve veterans. But too often, these nonprofits function on the premise that, as veterans, we are all somehow damaged by our experiences in the military and that we must be fixed.

This kind of thinking, while valiant, instead puts veterans into the category of “other,” further separating us from our civilian counterparts and perpetuating the myth that veterans will continually struggle to transition back into civilian society.

I guess the idea behind the outdoor adventure was that we would all find ourselves and be comforted by nature. I just wanted to go rock climbing.

Since I left the Army, I have had several wonderful experiences due to the generosity of nonprofits. I embraced rock climbing and hiking, traveled on fishing expeditions, attempted stand-up comedy, built a solid resume, and engaged in therapy for PTSD. From each of these experiences, I gained new insight into myself, and I do not doubt that each of these nonprofits has helped others in remarkable ways.

This is not a call to end all veteran nonprofits, but rather for an examination into the assumptions which are made in their founding.

American military service is unique in that service is voluntary and only undertaken by a small percentage of our population. Many people are eager to honor veterans’ service, and many vets certainly do return to the United States with the physical and emotional damage that require different kinds of help. I have struggled with PTSD and other kinds of mental illness as well as a severe back injury, and I have been helped by different organizations along the way.

The most helpful programs, though, are ones designed to help us to reintegrate rather than propagating the “disabled veteran” label, whether it’s physically or emotionally, that actually continues to separate us from the civilian world.

Please let us not end the multitudes of therapies out there for military veterans: the outdoor adventures, the arts programs, the service projects and the like. Bonding with other veterans is not only therapeutic without the therapy — it’s fun.

But when establishing new organizations in the future, we should focus on reintegration rather than separation. As veterans, we should stop arrogantly viewing ourselves as “special.” The sooner veterans are able to blend back into civilian life, the sooner veterans can offer their unique skills, talents, and insights into civil society.

The Supreme Court in Washington, D.C (Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to consider whether military personnel can be prosecuted for rape long after the crime occurred in an appeal by President Donald Trump's administration of a lower court ruling that overturned the rape conviction of an Air Force captain.

Read More Show Less

Little girls everywhere will soon have the chance to play with a set of classic little green Army soldiers that actually reflect the presence of women in the armed forces.

Read More Show Less

My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead

"As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night."

Opinion

Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.

They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.

As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.

But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.

Read More Show Less
The amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) departs Naval Station Mayport in preparation of Hurricane Matthew's arrival onto Florida's eastern coast. (U.S. Navy/Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Andrew Hays)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

A fire broke out on a Navy amphibious assault ship Thursday night, leaving 11 sailors with minor injuries.

Sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima reported smoke in the cargo hold at 11:45 p.m. The ship was pierside at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, where it's undergoing maintenance.

Read More Show Less

The leader of a Chicago-area street gang has been arrested and charged with attempting to aid the ISIS terrorist group, the Department of Justice said Friday.

Jason Brown, also known as "Abdul Ja'Me," allegedly gave $500 on three separate occasions in 2019 to a confidential informant Brown believed would then wire it to an ISIS fighter engaged in combat in Syria. The purported ISIS fighter was actually an undercover law enforcement officer, according to a DoJ news release.

Read More Show Less