Do you have a key role in serving American Soldiers, Civil Servants and outdoors recreation in some manner? Whether you are with the U.S. State Department, Department of Defense, Department of Interior, Wounded Warriors recreation programs, Veterans Affairs or other levels of politics, you have the ability to come together and make a difference in decreasing the number of veterans’ lives lost daily here, on U.S. soil. Having even one veteran take his or her own life is heartbreaking. Having 18 veterans per day, 6,570 annually that take their own lives, which is far more than lives lost in the field of combat at this time, is not a metric I think we should chose to accept.
We in the field – vets, civic servant supporters and family members feel it's time to stop this tragedy. We invite your leadership and expertise. How can you participate in this collaborative coalition to help decrease the number of veteran lives lost on U.S. soil?
Yesterday, I lost yet another great friend and man that I admire, a retired and disabled OIF Veteran who was able to find peace through kayaking and the great outdoors. The very brief story of Sgt. Ray Zumwalt (Ret), US Marine Corps, is found here. Why the story of Ray? Post combat and his injuries sustained in Iraq leading to his discharge, Ray found heavy substance abuse and other life threatening behaviors to increase in his daily life. After finding kayaking and an active outdoors lifestyle, a road to sobriety became his new familiar path of reconciliation. Through his newly discovered outdoors lifestyles, Ray wished to achieve public acceptance and an ability to experience freedom and success again, through access to public lands and interacting with the great outdoors with his family and friends. Specifically for Ray, he dreamt of access to the outdoors, by way of a kayak. Acceptance was, although he looked normal on the outside, for people to understand that his mind was suffering from post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury occurred during fractal fire. Ray was a steward to his environment in a river corridor. Ray was at peace when a kayak sat beneath him dancing down free flowing river, reminding him why he fought for this country and was put in harms’ way. Ray once stated while on a river in Colorado, "Chris, this is why I stood up for my country. I love this place!"
Our wild and scenic outdoors experiences have been proven to create redemptive and sustained healing. We are finding that survivors’ remorse finds its exit when they are in a kayak, on the mountainside – together, with friends and families. No soldier or person is left behind. They begin to thrive together in their homes and communities.
Through multi-stakeholder and joint forces collaboration it is possible to help veterans successfully reintegrate into a civilian role and cut that 18-per-day death toll significantly. This goal can be expedited and amplified when we all join hands in creating a commonly recognized and understood Stop 18 language amongst all Americans, both civilian and veterans alike. In coming together, talking about “Stop 18" at a national level while highlighting and actively supporting existing programs, especially those based on the outdoors, we do make a difference. These differences are effective in giving veterans a renewed confidence and sense of purpose, especially as the veterans themselves become mentors and coaches to others in the outdoors. This outdoors experience becomes a No Barriers Lifestyle, which has been shown to be successfully transferred to their personal and professional lives.
Such an effort does bring awareness and programming to people of all disabilities or body types. Our goal is to have programs accessible 365-days-per-year so No Soldier is Left Behind. It will also involve the entire family in activity and confidence building, lessening youth obesity and improving on the accountability within our homes, workplaces and classrooms. Our returning warriors can become leaders again in their communities, showing the path of redemption and healing through simply being leaders, which they were programmed to be in the military and basic training.
I ask each of you on this communication to look deeply within yourselves, and ask how can we work together and bring about a monumental shift in the number of veteran deaths, those who give their lives for our freedom? They deserve to have a life on US soil, where there are proven ways in which allows them a thriving life, which is through the importance of therapeutic recreation through our wild and scenic outdoors– and then choosing to pay it forward. Regardless of what level of government you represent or what role you fill within the community: each of us has a role to play to Stop 18, together.
We at Sportainability International have no egos. We haven't any sided agenda. We are team players, wishing to become the cohesive glue between the highest levels of policy makers, media and program directors to make a difference both for our military, community civic servants- men and women for every community they call home in this beautiful land, the land we call “UNITED States of America.”
When and where is this nationwide meeting happening? A conference bringing all of us industry and community leaders together, to stop talking and start doing, in order to bring this to the front of the media and community awareness. It's not the war on terror in foreign lands: it's standing up to protect and advocate those are falling or have fallen, taking their own lives because their story is unknown. Integrating the community into the veterans... not reintegrating veterans into the community… It's not their fault: we put them there.
Sportainability stands ready to work with you and your national organization partners to convene the meeting. Again, when and where?
Let's ascend to making our home just a little bit better and put aside our egos while working toward our common vision.
Yours in collaboration,