A group of wounded warriors recently hiked 17 miles in the Texas Hill Country to honor the 17 veterans who die by suicide each day.
The warriors participated in the second annual hike as part of a Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) mental health program called Project Odyssey®, which uses adventure-based learning to help veterans with invisible wounds of war.
“We did something that was bigger than the group,” said Project Odyssey specialist Scott Slotterback. “We honored those who are no longer with us and also thought about those brothers and sisters who are currently struggling. We need to keep them at the forefront of our minds, too.”
To achieve their 17-mile goal, the group’s guide had to take the warriors off course into tough terrain. Project Odyssey specialist Tom Chimenti said this led to a powerful realization for the group.
“The path was extremely hard, and you had to hold the hand of another to get up and down,” Tom said. “One of the things we referenced throughout the hike was sometimes life takes us off path. And we need that helping hand to pull us back up.”
According to a 2020 WWP survey, nearly a third (30%) of WWP warriors reported having thoughts related to suicide in the past two weeks, and 83% report living with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Programs like Project Odyssey provide support for veterans with PTSD to increase their resiliency and help them live productive and fulfilling lives.
“I think Wounded Warrior Project does a very good job of letting you know that there are other people out there and that there’s no problem too big that can’t be solved,” said Marine Corps veteran Jack Frawley, who participated in the Project Odyssey as a peer mentor. "You don’t have to take your life to figure out the solution to a problem.”
Other Project Odyssey Activities
In addition to the hike, the warriors participated in various activities to develop practical coping, communication, and resiliency skills. One of the most impactful was the group’s interpretation of a Japanese art called Kintsugi.
Over the course of two days, the veterans painted a mug in a way that represented their life and values. They then broke the mug with a hammer and reassembled it with glue. The original mug represented who they were, the broken mug represented who they became, and the new, repaired mug symbolized who they are now.
“I think It was one of the most impactful exercises that we were able to do because my mug still has a hole in it,” Jack said. “I’m able to look at this mug and know that I still have work to do to become the best person I can be post-service.”
Throughout the week, the warriors also repelled down the face of a mountain, zip lined over the Texas Hill Country, and participated in several mental health education sessions.
For the remainder of the 12-week program, the warriors will work together with WWP to stay engaged, achieve their personal goals, and make lifelong positive changes. For veterans living with PTSD, like Jack, Project Odyssey was a life-changing experience that he recommends to others.
“I think that a Project Odyssey will be the most impactful thing that has happened to you since you’ve been out of the service,” he said. “Your ability to connect to what you think is gone will actually be reignited, and you’ll start to feel that you have a reason for being here.
“You’ll be able to connect with other people who have experienced maybe not the same things you have, but can empathize with what you’re going through,” Jack added. “For you to not at least commit to trying, you’re really missing out on doing something really special for yourself.”
If you are a veteran struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. For information about resources available from Wounded Warrior Project, visit woundedwarriorproject.org or call Wounded Warrior Project’s Resource Center at 888-997-2586.
Contact: — Jon Blauvelt — Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 904.426.9756
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.