Disabled Veterans Find A New Purpose

On Veterans Day, we’re encouraged to stop and think about those who served our nation and honor them in the most fitting way we can.

Jeff "ski" Marcinkowski

GLE, through one of its lenders, CoBank, feels privileged to take honoring veterans to a higher level by giving them an opportunity to challenge themselves and, in the process, remember why they’re worthy of being honored.

 

Did you know that more than 44 percent of military recruits come from rural communities, according to Pentagon figures?

CoBank, a cooperative bank serving electric and other co-ops across rural America, has been partnering for some years with No Barriers USA on their No Barriers Warriors expeditions. The Warriors program is designed to serve veterans with disabilities.  (More on the program at the end of this blog.) It sends veterans on a wilderness expedition designed to challenge their limitations and create a network of support to last a lifetime.

The No Barriers Warriors Experience

Jeff “ski” Marcinkowski, of Whitehall, participated in a Warriors expedition to Colorado in July this year

He advises that veterans of all ages from all branches of service, no matter what their job was, often have a hard time “finding their voice” once out of the service. Those who never enlisted seldom relate to veterans and their silent sacrifices for their country and its citizens. The most remarkable aspect of a No Barriers Warriors expedition, says Marcinkowski, is that you return from the experience having found your voice, which comes with the realization that you can accomplish tasks you never thought you could and harness the military sense of duty and commitment to impact the people and world around you.

No Barriers gears different wilderness expeditions to different levels of disabilities. Marcinkowski’s expedition, for example, consisted of mostly hiking through the Colorado wilderness. Others may include rafting or rock climbing.

“Not everyone who applies is selected,” notes Marcinkowski. No Barriers selects and matches veterans in each expedition group to maximize their ability to take care of each other.No Barriers Expedition scenery

The wilderness environment is key, he states. Besides the beauty and serenity, the surroundings offer challenges in simply getting around that require participants to rely on, relate to, and motivate each other. The guides—some of them veterans themselves—play strictly a supporting role.

“They supply the gear, we supply the willpower,” explains Marcinkowski. While the expedition provides “every accommodation possible,” it’s still very much a wilderness experience that takes courage and determination to complete.

2019 No Barriers group on mountain trailDuring the course of the expedition, bonds form as participants open up to each other about their lives, their challenges in being disabled military veterans in a civilian world, their hopes and dreams. They hear what each other has accomplished and what they still want to accomplish. Participants, Marcinkowski explains, learn to “unload their minds” and conquer physical challenges they weren’t sure they could.

A “silent walk” at the end of the expedition has participants walking individually down a steep grade to a guide below, where they make three positive statements to the guide about themselves and commit to practicing and sharing those positive traits.

His silent walk provided “a moment like I’ve never had before,” admits Marcinkowski. As a result of successfully completing the expedition, he says, “There’s no challenge out there that I’m afraid of.”

Participants stay in touch with each other following the experience, and many volunteer to spread the word to other disabled veterans about the No Barriers experience.         

What About 2020 No Barriers Warriors Expeditions?   

Watch CoBank’s website for No Barriers nominations and applications to open in January for 2020 expeditions. Nominate a disabled veteran you know or even yourself by expressing your interest to Great Lakes Energy, or by simply visiting the website and clicking on the application link you will find on the page. Nominations/applications are considered by No Barriers on a first-come first-served basis. CoBank will sponsor up to 50 veterans for an expedition. Online applications must be received by April 15 to be considered for a 2020 expedition. Information on the program will also appear in January’s edition of Michigan Country Lines.Jeff Marcinkowski hiking