The morning stillness is interrupted by a thump and then water slashing as a 1200 pound moose thunders out of the lake directly in front of the lodge. The young bull was staking out his territory; he startled the whitetails that were sprinkled around the lake eating sweet grass on the open field. This is grizzly bear country, northwest Montana and the ranch provides a safe haven for deer, moose and other animals in the area. The 16 acre lake, bucolic fields, several historic barns, a greenhouse and two modern 5,000 square foot log homes are all part of the newly proposed Camp Patriot Ranch. The 158 acre ranch will become the first-of-its-kind facility to host wounded and disabled veterans of all generations. This newly proposed facility will host up to 400 veterans and volunteers annually. Established in 2006 Camp Patriot, a non-profit organization, offers wounded and disabled veterans outdoor recreational therapy programs. In the past, the organization has led groups of wounded veterans to the summit of Mt. Rainier; they have hiked the Grand Canyon, hosted dog sled adventures, fishing trips in Montana and Alaska and hunted elk, pig, deer and black bear with veterans who are blind or missing limbs. This proposed ranch is the culmination of eight years of hard work and tireless fundraising efforts. At a cost of two million dollars, the ranch comes fully furnished with all the facilities and equipment required to launch operations from day one. “We have raised $1.6 million and are in the final push to bring in the last $400,000 to make this ranch retreat a reality”, offers Micah Clark, Executive Director of Camp Patriot.
The federal government has elaborate and costly battle plans to fight wars, however caring for the men and women who become wounded and disabled as a result of wars is often and afterthought. Evidence of this ill planning comes in the form of epidemics of veteran homelessness, unemployment and suicide. The suicide rate in the veteran’s community claims more than 20 lives each day. The rate has actually increased over the past year from 18 to over 20 deaths per day, meanwhile the government’s response is to add more funding for the same types of treatment programs. “It seems that when it comes to treating emotional wounds, the government is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Someone once called this practice the definition of insanity”, offered Clark. “The fact is that suicide is a condition of hopelessness and as far as I am aware, there is no pill that cures hopeless. The condition of hopelessness is best treated through the establishment and fostering of trusted relationships”, added Clark.
Camp Patriot’s goal is to fundamentally shift the treatment and care of wounded and disabled veterans from the current pharmacological focus to one that centers on empowering veterans with unique outdoor programs and the right relationships. “The real war is right here at home and our veterans are being hit by friendly fire in the form of VA backlogs, federal government cutbacks and ill effective treatment for complex wounds”, added Clark. Camp Patriot’s custom designed therapy programs will cater to wounded and disabled veterans of all generations. These proposed programs range from four wheeler excursions into the backcountry to beekeeping, fishing on the ranch lake and nearby rivers, hiking on the miles of trails woven in and around the ranch and other programs that make use of the entire complex.
The challenge for many wounded and disabled veterans is not physical or emotional it’s relational. Veterans’ return to a strange country and are in many cases estranged from their family, friends and former military community. They become isolated and stuck. “No matter how one becomes stuck, you need someone to reach out and pull you out. The right relationships offer a hand up and a push forward to gain momentum.” said Clark.
While our nation’s veterans spent years training and fighting to defend us, their civilian peers were building important relationships in their communities, schools and in the workplace. These relationships afforded them a network to find employment and advance their careers by solidifying relationships outside the workplace during recreational activities such as golf. Returning veterans are tasked with building new trusted relationships and often times in new communities. This task can prove to be far more challenging than overcoming physical wounds. Camp Patriot’s Ranch Retreat functions much like a golf course in that it will become a simple way for veterans to commune, meet new people and create a new network of relationships. These relationships become the fabric of support under each veteran. “Many of our past veteran guests have secured jobs, new housing and returned to school because of the relationships they have established through our program” said Clark.
Camp Patriot was built on relationships and many organizations including the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, Justin Boots and Sportsman’s Warehouse have played an important role in the growth of the organization. Jeremy Sage and Mike Deming of Sportsman’s Warehouse first met the Camp Patriot team nearly seven years ago at an outdoor trade show and immediately partnered with the organization to donate gear and help make connections with outfitters across the country. “The leadership at Sportsman’s Warehouse knows the sacrifice that our military members and their families make. They also understand the therapeutic value of being outdoors. For some people it’s a game of golf and for others it hunting, camping and fishing. Sportsman’s Warehouse has been awesome” said Clark.
In the coming months, Camp Patriot will continue to host disabled veterans on outdoor adventures across the country while working the phones for donations, build relationships and doing whatever it takes to raise the remaining funds required to purchase the first ever retreat ranch exclusively designed for wounded veterans. “We feel honored to be able to do this work, to say thank you and to give back to those who have given so much for all of us. We are grateful to everyone who shares our vision and lends their support” said Clark.
For additional information about Camp Patriot or to donate visit: www.camppatriot.org or call 480-201-4036.