Getting outdoors and becoming active is a great way to seek out health and happiness. In a world that has become fast-paced and highly connected, the calm of the woods can feel almost surreal. This disconnect between average life and the serenity of nature may explain why outdoors activities have the potential to have a deep and lasting positive impact on veterans.
Vets coming home from active duty have to be aware of their health and wellness. The unique stresses of military service can create a dangerous environment, and there is a potential risk of becoming too isolated from everyday civilian life. The great outdoors can be a balancing influence in some cases.
Bonding on the Appalachian Trail
A recent NPR feature followed Sean Gobin, a veteran of the Marine Corps who organizes veterans' trips into the wilderness. His nonprofit group is called Warrior Expeditions. Gobin knows the positive effects of fresh air and hard travel well, as he walked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail when he returned from combat duty. The hike stretched over 2,100 miles and helped Gobin reconnect with his civilian mindset after three deployments.
To get a sampling of the emotional impact a good hike can have on a veteran re-engaging with everyday life, NPR spoke with several members of a trip up Maine's Mount Katahdin. Cody Yates, who spent 20 years serving in both the Army and the Marine Corps, explained that there is a need to ease the transition back into the civilian world, as experiences from time in the military – including losing friends in the line of duty – tend to linger in the mind long after they've occurred.
It's possible to lose some of the heaviness associated with such bad memories, according to another of the hikers, former Air National Guard member Diana Brown. She told NPR that though it's impossible to fix things that happened in the past, it is necessary to set them down and leave them behind. Outdoor exertion is one of the types of activity that can have such an effect. A long walk on the Appalachian Trail can make an encouraging contribution to the process.
Groups around the nation
There is an impressive group of veterans organizations promoting the healing power of nature around the country. The Standard Examiner focused on another. In Woods Cross, Utah, Iraq veteran Josh Hansen created Continue Mission after a medical retirement from the Army brought on by brain injuries. After feeling the healing power of nature, he began the organization, which now serves nearly 150 other veterans. In total, 1,500 have worked with the group since its founding.
Hansen stated that the name of the group is inspired by seeing civilian life as the next stage of the mission for the members of the program. By getting active in nature, they are taking the next steps in their respective lives. According to the Standard Examiner, Continue Mission offers all sorts of activities outdoors, from hikes to canoe journeys to skiing. In all cases, wellness is the long-term goal.