Updated: Oct 15, 2020
It is no secret that during the late 60's and early 70's, the Vietnam war was everywhere and on everyone's mind. It was deeply unpopular and deeply polarizing. Paul Andersen, the founder of Huts for Vets, was a young man during this time and saw the uselessness of fighting the Vietnam War and the wasting of American lives. He grew up holding many of the same anti-war sentiments that a large portion of America held at the time. To be clear, Paul always supported the troops but protested the war of attrition being waged at the expense of American men and women in uniform.
Fast forward to 2013. Paul saw the destruction and mental trauma that the war experience left on our military vets and active duty officers and decided to do something about it. Paul established a wilderness based therapy program that takes participants on a weekend long wilderness excursion in the Rocky Mountains. During that time they spend their time in group therapy sessions where they can dig deep and take an introspective look at the root causes of their trauma. They are surrounded by peers that can empathize with them and help each other through the process of healing.
Beyond that, participants have said that hiking in the mountains has done more for them than any medication has ever done. It is a combination of things that make wilderness therapy interesting and effective. Hiking in the Rocky Mountains is difficult. I moved here from Ohio and a year later the altitude still has an affect on me. To the participants of Huts for Vets, the altitude and strenuous hike forces them to focus on something other than their trauma: the simple act of breathing. It may seem innocuous to you, but when you are gasping for thin air to quench your burning lungs, every other thought disappears. Then, when you are stopped and thinking you are on the cusp of death, you look into these snow-capped hills and get taken away. The pine trees dot the mountain and mixed in with the greenery is the white bark of Aspen trees. The air is clean and crisp with the chirping of birds being carried by the wind. It is surreal.
Nature has a way of making your problems seem insignificant. Paul has found a way to help the most damaged and most important people in our nation. If you would like to learn more or donate to Huts for Vets please visit https://hutsforvets.org/. To listen to our full conversation on "The 12 Hike Podcast" click this link.