Camping in a tent for four days in a remote location in Wyoming without cell service, Internet access, or even a shower, may not sound like an ideal getaway. For five female wounded warriors it was the perfect way to relax, bond and escape the stresses of everyday military life.
I had the honor and privilege of tagging along with this dynamic group of women as they participated in the first all-female Rivers of Recovery excursion sponsored by the USO wounded warriors program. Rivers of Recovery is a nonprofit organization that combines idyllic settings with therapeutic benefits of a cohesive group of individuals that have faced similar experiences and challenges. The Rivers team, an eclectic mix of veterans, wounded warriors, former Rivers participants and a PhD student, works to provide veterans with a temporary sanctuary, free of stress and uncertainty.
We spent our nights around the campfire, and our days on the water, fly fishing for trout in the beautiful rivers outside of Caribou-Targhee National Forest in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The women, who were from warrior transition battalions at Fort Hood in Texas and Walter Reed Army Medical in D.C., had never fly fished before. Our Rivers guides taught the group how to tie flies and cast them. The trip centered on fishing, but focused on healing.
The women, who are all at different stages in their recovery, taught me that not all wounds are visible and that our nation’s female warriors are strong.
One of the women shared with us that she has had a very tough year. Her son was killed, she continues to suffer from back pain and her job as a cadre officer in the warrior transition battalion is extremely stressful. The time away from the pressures of the “real world” was priceless.
“No government cell phone. No soldiers calling. Just time to unwind and relax. I needed this, ” she said.
All of the women were so gracious and thankful for the experience. It was often difficult for them to step out of their solider mentality and allow others to care for them during the excursion. On the first night the group was shocked to learn that our campground guide Ken, a Vietnam Veteran and USO volunteer, would be doing all the cooking during the trip. And when the women learned that our river guides would be paddling the boats they about fell out of their chairs!
“Do you know how hard it is for a solider to sit and watch someone else work?” asked one of the warriors.
The trip left a lasting impression on the women including myself. Emails have already been exchanged and I imagine we, as a group, will all stay in touch for many years to come. I am so thankful to these women, and all those serving our country, for their service and dedication. Many Americans will never know the sacrifices you have made and the wounds that you will carry with you for the rest of your life. – Andrea Sok, USO Communications Manager