Veterans healing in the Montana wilderness - KXLH.com | Helena, Montana

Veterans healing in the Montana wilderness

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It's estimated that in the U.S., 20 veterans every day lose their lives to suicide.

That's according to a report from the Veterans Affairs Suicide Prevention Program released last July.

Even though the VA has resources to help veterans, members of a new program are taking a different approach in helping veterans heal the wounds of war.

Montana Vet Program Program Manager Luke Urick was 21 when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He completed three deployments to Iraq during his first enlistment. 

"A lot of individuals who come home from Iraq and Afghanistan bring baggage home with them," Urick Said. 

After Urick re-enlisted, he found a way to heal the wounds of war.

"When I got done with my first four my wife and I re enlisted. We moved up to Bridgeport California, where I became an instructor at the Mountain Warfare Training Center," Urick said. 

Urick took his experiences as an instructor at the training center and has applied them to a new program at Eagle Mount of Great Falls.

"What we want to do at the Montana Vet Program is to get groups of veterans together and take them into the iconic locations of Montana," Urick said.

The focus of the program is to encourage veterans to help each other through camaraderie, physical activity, and tough minded healing.

"Just like we were in the military, you are always pushing yourself to another level, but you have to continue doing that out here too. You cannot stagnate when you get into the civilian world. It is not good for your mental capacity," Tim Egnoski, MVP Program Coordinator Assistant said.

Tim Egnoski met Urick when they were in the Marines. He deployed three times to Iraq with Urick. 

"Out here to kind of prove that you can do it but also to get to the point of why we do it. The healing that you are going to get from an experience like this," Egnoski said.

In July, Urick and Egnoski joined others on a 112 mile hike through the Scapegoat, Bob Marshall, and Great Bear wilderness areas to bring awareness to the new program. 

"All the individuals who have been a part of our program so far, including myself, we have benefited from this program," Urick said.

And as they hiked through the Montana wilderness, group members were reminded of their motto "Suffer Well."

Urick says suffering is just a part of being in the military.  The motto reminds veterans they are capable of doing great things, despite the hardships.

"To me suffering well is actually appreciating that you are still alive and that you can still feel the pain and the suffrage. Putting yourself through that and pushing beyond what you think you can do," Egnoski said.

Another important aspect of the Montana Vets Program is the Pig Egg Project. "Our Pig Egg is a bag that is full of the 6,839 dog tags from the men and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan," Urick said. The bag is about 75 pounds and the group takes it on each hike they have and will go on in the future.

"I'd say for myself, that time when you are carrying the Pig Egg it really gives you time to just stop thinking about everything else and really it brings just the ramifications of the war we have been fighting for 13-14 years here," Egnoski said.

Urick says the Pig Egg is a way for them to remember those that paid the ultimate sacrifice and to honor them as they look to heal their souls. 

"One of the individuals who was a part of the 112 mile hike was a 48 year old retired Navy cop. I got a call from him a couple of weeks ago and he had told me that trip through the Bob Marshall Wilderness changed his life forever,"  Urick said.

And with each step, they are creating a bond and a network of people to fall back on in a time of need. 

"Veterans are going to help veterans heal and we are going to do it by ourselves," Urick said.

Montana Vet Program therapy trips will include 30 mile hikes but they also want to offer float trips, fishing trips, and even day hikes around Montana. 

Organizers are taking the format and thinking outside of the box so every veteran is able to participate in the program. 

PREVIOUSLYVeterans hike into the Montana wilderness for healing and camaraderie

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