Veterans Take To The River | Natural Retreats
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Veterans Take To The River

Upon returning from war-torn Vietnam, a group of veterans made a pact: Someday, they told each other, they’d find a way to help their fellow soldiers return home. Now, some 40 years later, the non-profit Warriors Afield Legacy Foundation is helping returning war veterans connect with nature and with their comrades.

Last Friday, the South Fork Lodge in Swan Valley hosted a handful of veterans for a weekend of fly fishing and mentoring. The lodge, which is partly owned by Natural Retreats, became the center of activity for the nonprofit, hosting the veterans’ stay and fishing expedition. Local fishing guides stepped up, too, lending their talents for no fee.

In its few years of operation, the foundation has hosted nearly 100 veterans, many of whom suffered injuries on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jonathan Lancaster, Natural Retreats' VP of Sales, said pairing the outdoor industry and the military seemed odd initially, but that he’s beginning to see how great of a fit it is. Industry brands like Patagonia and others have stepped up to equip veterans with the gear they need, too.

Many of the veterans who attend the retreats grew up hunting, fishing and enjoying the outdoors. With war behind them, Lancaster said, Warriors Afield has given them the opportunity to reconnect with nature in a positive way.

“I’ve seen the healing take place,” Lancaster said.

One of last year’s attendees had been shot in the head by a sniper in Iraq. His comrade, who carried him to safety, was also wounded. He was there to support his friend, who was still on the road to recovery.

“Almost everyone up to this point has been a purple heart winner,” Lancaster said.

This year, veterans like Bryant Jacobs, of Utah, who lost his right leg after six years of trying to save it, and Carlos Lugo, of Idaho Falls, who lost his left arm below the elbow to an IED, attended.

Dick Rock, one of the founders of Warriors Afield, said resort and ranch owners have been generous in offering up their services to the group. The owners at Southern Utah’s Castle Valley Ranch were the first to do so a few years ago. Since then, others have joined. At South Fork Lodge, a group of retired generals and colonels interacted with the local veterans, sharing stories around the fire, fishing and detailing how they came home from war and lead successful live.

Rock said the interactions have been meaningful, and that the younger generation of veterans is connecting with those who’ve gone before.

“There are several examples of kids who’ve really blossomed,” he said.

Originally published by Teton Valley News on June 18, 2015.