Wilderness trips aim to heal veterans
Veterans will soon have a chance to spend time in the Rocky Mountains on a wilderness course, in the hopes that the camaraderie will help them reintegrate into their communities.
Outward Bound and the Royal Canadian Legion plan to offer free, week-long courses starting in June to anyone who has served in the Canadian Forces and still encounters "challenges due to their experiences."
Marc D'Astous, a 29-year-old who served and lost friends in Afghanistan in 2005, was one of the founders of the program. When he returned home to Canmore, he said he needed more support than the local legion could offer. He met another young veteran, Shaun Arntsen, who shared his concerns.
"I've always gone to the mountains when I needed a break or when I needed to recharge my batteries, kind of strip away all the excess and just look at what's really going on inside," he said.
"We come out the other end of a war, or service, or peacekeeping duty and it takes a while to digest what you've gone through. Having an opportunity to reconnect in a wilderness setting sometimes opens up a lot of that dialogue and makes you realize you're not the only one."
Connecting with the landscape
Outward Bound was quick to get on board with the suggestion to take veterans into the Rocky Mountains. The non-profit wilderness education organization was founded to prepare British soldiers for combat and has a long history of involvement with the military.
Participants might backpack, ski-tour, canoe or dog sled through the wilderness. Spending time in the Rockies can play an important role in healing, said Julian Norris, director of Outward Bound in western Canada.
"Every Canadian military veteran knows of a comrade who still carries the burden of their experiences and their service. Those scars are often not visible," Norris said.
"Part of this adventure is a chance to connect deeply with other veterans, to begin talking about things that you may never talk about in your day-to-day life, with people who understand, that care, and have been through a similar journey and perhaps show you a way forward."
For others, it might be a chance to connect with the landscape and feel like they really have returned home, said Norris.
"They fought for this landscape, this place. Coming back to this place, it's home, it's part of the journey," he said.
After the wilderness courses there will be several followup programs available, including one that will refer participants to support services. Another will train veterans to become outdoor guides.