Warriors in the Woods

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It’d been decades since Greg had been on a river, and his memories weren’t good. During the Vietnam War he’d been a river patrol boat gunner—a hazardous job with high casualty rates.

This past summer, however, he joined a whitewater rafting trip down California’s American River as part of the Sierra Club’s Military Outdoors program, sponsored in part by REI.

The start of the trip wasn’t auspicious. At the riverbank, the weight of Greg’s wartime experiences hit him hard, leaving him feeling anxious and distant from the nine other homeless veterans on the trip. Rather than drop out, Greg faced his demons in the raft.

Military Outdoors - Sierra Club

Nature did its work. After several hours on the river, Greg felt at ease and was having a great time with his fellow vets, swimming and playing games. At the takeout point, a smiling Greg told the group how transformed he felt after experiencing the river and the outdoors in a different light.

Finding Peace

“At first, my head went back to where I had been on riverboats,” he explained. “That fear came in as if it were yesterday. But once I met and began to talk to people, and got on the river, I came to understand that I was not on a gunboat. I was at peace.” Read more here.

Military Outdoors - Sierra Club

That’s exactly the kind of result the Military Outdoors program aims for. It was created to improve access to and understanding of the outdoors for service members and their families, and it’s helped 50,000 people so far. As Greg’s experience showed, time spent outdoors can ease the difficulty faced by many veterans returning to civilian life. And as another vet served by the program remarked, “There is no better place to clear your mind than being in the great outdoors. If you can’t see the forest through the trees, then get above the tree line.”

Proof of that Premise

In fact, this idea is supported by new scientific research. In a related collaboration among the Sierra Club, REI and the University of California, Berkeley, researchers are documenting the biological and emotional effects of spending time outdoors. Known as The Great Outdoors Lab, this effort is already finding that time spent outdoors increases curiosity and improves sleep and mental well-being. As the research continues, it will likely corroborate an idea REI lives and breathes every day: Getting outside is good for you.

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