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

Opinion

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.

U.S. Army National Guard/Spc. Jarod Dye

On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.

Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.

In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.

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(U.S. Army/Pvt. Stephen Peters)

With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.

After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.

Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.

McNerney, Brentwood VFW Commander Steve Todd and Junior Vice Commander John Bradley helped obtain a POW award after doing research and requesting records to surprise Leonard during a birthday party last month.

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(U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Andrew Ochoa)

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

Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a massive urban training center this summer that will test the leathernecks' ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians.

The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August.

They'll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They'll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.

It's the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.

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(Reuters/Carlos Barria)

WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) - President Donald Trump imposed new U.S. sanctions onIran on Monday following Tehran's downing of an unmanned American drone and said the measures would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.

Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called "the hostile conduct of the regime."

"Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said.

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