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4/22/2013 10:38:00 PM
MUTUAL AID: Veterans Recreation Expo connects vets with activities, services
Veterans Action Leadership Project/Courtesy photo
Veterans Action Leadership Project Executive Director Tom Whittaker, right, helps an Army veteran prepare to rappel at Watson Lake in March of this year.
Veterans Action Leadership Project/Courtesy photo
Veterans Action Leadership Project Executive Director Tom Whittaker, right, helps an Army veteran prepare to rappel at Watson Lake in March of this year.
Lisa Irish
The Daily Courier

Veterans and their families can learn more about recreation opportunities in the area while hiking, kayaking, rappelling at the first Veterans Recreation Expo from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 27 at Watson Lake.

Veterans Action Leadership Project Community Outreach Director Bobby Fields said they wanted to create an event to introduce veterans to their programs and connect them with local resources.

"It's hard to get veterans in one place to get them the information they need, particularly for my generation of veterans who are working and going to school full-time," Fields said. "As an Army veteran, I'll go to this event. There's so many people here like me. They have the same life and transitional challenges. They get it. They walk the same path that I walk."

The free event for veterans of all eras and their families is being combined with the Prescott Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/ Operation New Dawn Welcome Home Event sponsored by the Veterans Action Leadership Project and Northern Arizona Health Care System.

"The hikes will leave the grassy area on the hiking trail," Fields said. "There will be iterations of kayaking, one in the morning and three in the afternoon that will be relatively short. We'll have two instructors accommodating groups of eight with basic safety and skills overviews and then we'll get them into the kayaks out onto the water. The rappelling will be run by our Executive Director Tom Whittaker."

Whittaker, who was the first amputee to climb to the top of Mount Everest, founded the Veterans Action Leadership Project, a Prescott nonprofit, to help veterans of all eras as they transition to civilian life by offering guided and self-directed outdoor recreation and skills like rock-climbing, backpacking, fishing, orienteering, outdoor photography, watersports.

"As a small nonprofit, we can provide you the equipment to go rappelling, we can hook you up on a canoeing trip, and plug you in to resources, but if we're not backed up by VA services we're just providing temporary relief of some symptoms," Fields said. "We're here to help you with your recreational pursuits. There are many organizations here to help you with your professional, medical, and personal pursuits."

Children will be able to fly kites, play with bubbles, and enjoy several other activities and the family and lunch will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

"We're hoping we have a good turnout of families, because nothing happens outside the context of the family," Fields said.

The Natural Healing Garden in Prescott will offer massages, A Yogi's Center in Prescott Valley will provide a yoga demonstration and class, CrossFit Overthrow will conduct demonstrations, and Northern Arizona Brain Integration will be there as well.

Northern Arizona Veterans Affairs Health Care System OED, OIF, and OND Program Manager Markham Breen said they'll have representatives from veterans benefits, mental health, women's programs, homeless programs, suicide prevention, and eligibility enrollment programs that serve all era veterans.

"Many new returning veterans face multiple challenges, so the typical profile we see is not someone with one area of injury," Breen said.

Breen said veterans are coming back with musculoskeletal injuries, back injuries, joint injuries, mental health needs including post traumatic stress disorder, depression, as well as traumatic brain injury.

"The VA can help with the physical components, we have good mental health supports, but the path to healing is never simple, and it doesn't happen in a hospital," Breen said.

Recovering and creating a new mission in life can be a brutal transition, Breen said.

"Veterans had a job where lives are at stake, they've had awesome responsibilities, and they've taken incredible risks," Breen said. "Now they're asked if they'd like to flip burgers at McDonalds or maybe work at the ambulance company."

Fields said "As veterans we sometimes have difficulty relating to others, we lived a life that was so serious as far as the ramifications if you don't do your job well."

"One of my outlets since I got home has been the outdoors," Fields said. "Hunting, hiking, spending time with my family in the outdoors, because that's how I grew up here in Prescott deer hunting at Lynx Lake and catching crawdads at Granite Creek Park."

Living a full life and staying active is incredibly important for people with chronic pain, post traumatic stress, and traumatic brain injury, Breen said.

"There's no stigma associated with being a part of a veterans group that goes out for hikes, shooting, or fishing, that's normal stuff everyone does," Breen said. "But veterans also need support from friends, their relationships, their faith, and community activities."

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, May 02, 2013
Article comment by: Bobby Fields

THANK YOU, THANK YOU to all of the participants, organizations, and volunteers that helped make our event a success, the Northern Arizona VA! We had over 350 participants and 70 volunteers, and perfect weather to make for a great day at Watson Lake. And to all of our veterans and families that attended, we hope that you had a wonderful time.

Posted: Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Article comment by: Bobby Fields

TSgt Hatfield, you seem to be missing the point, as well. The organizations participating are not the loan sharks you find outside the post/base gates around the country. Many of the organizers and participants of this event ARE veterans, this isn't a bunch of people trying to take advantage of veterans. This expo is not for the organizations, it is for the veterans. Maybe you don't need or want to attend this kind of event as a veteran, but there are many who will be happy to have the different information, services, and activities in the same place.

I am not sure if you just disagree because you have the "suck it up" mentality or because you simply don't understand what Veterans Action Leadership is trying to accomplish with this event. I also invite you out to the event to judge for yourself. Or, feel free to call anytime, 273-0353.

Bobby Fields
United States Army veteran: 1996 to 2005

Posted: Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Article comment by: Allen Morris

As a Veteran of both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom I'm grateful that there are events like this. In a time where "Peer Support" offers greater therapeutic support than any clinical counseling can achieve, this event offers returning Veterans the opportunity to connect with others with similar experiences that we might not have the opportunity to meet in our daily lives. I personally am looking forward to meeting other Veterans in the area that share hobbies to mine that can fully understand the experiences that I've had in my life.

Posted: Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Article comment by: To: Waste.. From: Retired Vet(eran)

Thank You for your comment! It pleases me that you are able to do that.

I agree with you! I don't think Vetranaians (sp), Animal Doctors, need an "expo", either. They should know about these activities.

However, 99.9% of those kind of Vets didn't defend your right to comment.

Waste..., know that us "Vets" love you and support you. We also love and support our Brother and Sister Vets.

Oh yeah, if we want an "Expo" just for, "Us", to help other Vets, to love and support each other then we do it!! Get Over It!

I'll give you a call, Bobby!

John Hatfield, TSgt..USAF (Ret.), M.Ed.

Posted: Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Article comment by: Bobby Fields

To "Waste of an Afternoon", perhaps you should re-read the article. This event is about getting veterans, like me, connected to recreational activities, connected to VA services and community organizations, and connected to fellow veterans. Nobody is making any money here, nobody is taking advantage. Many of the participating organizations offer services to veterans, such as free yoga classes, discounted gym memberships, equine therapy, etc. Many of the organizations, such as Employer Support of the Guard and Reserves (ESGR) and Arizona Department of Veterans Services, and Disabled American Veterans (DAV) are government and non-profit organizations that support and advocate for my fellow veterans.

The Veterans Action Leadership Project is a small non-profit with no paid employees, only volunteers. We donate our time and our passion to providing a recreational resource for veterans and their families. If you doubt what we are about, I invite you to come out and observe the event, talk to veterans, and talk to the organizations who are supporting us.

Bobby Fields, Veterans Action Leadership Project

Posted: Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Article comment by: Waste of An Afternoon

I can NOT BELIEVE they hold an "expo" specifically for Vets. To imply that Vets need their own "support" for learning about these activities is COMPLETELY WRONG. You are taking advantage of people's sympathy and probably making a buck at the same time. Pathetic.

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