In the middle of the Pocono Mountains, families are learning to survive–and not just in the wilderness. Wounded, ill, and injured service members and their families gathered over the weekend at Pocono Environmental Education Center in Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania, for an Operation Purple Healing Adventure. Families spent three and a half days hiking, canoeing, conquering a ropes course, and finding their ‘new normal’ after their service member’s injury.
Though most wounds were invisible, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), other injuries gradually started to become more apparent as the activities took place. One Navy veteran, who was medically discharged because of a lumbar injury, didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to take his children on a 3.5 mile hike to see a natural waterfall. The next morning, with a slower pace and slight limp, he joined his family for breakfast.
Service members know how to survive, and at Healing Adventures, their families are learning, too.
“Don’t let it touch the ground,” one Army veteran whispered to his daughters, as they lowered the American flag during camp’s nightly flag ceremony.
“Now fold diagonally 13 times into a triangle,” he instructed.
“Dad, I didn’t know you knew how to do that!” one daughter said.
He grinned, “I’ve done it a few times before.”
Healing Adventures isn’t only about the outdoor activities and beautiful scenery, parents take part in a group session with educators from Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS), where they speak openly about their struggles with injuries and life after military service. They also learn coping mechanisms to deal with the ups and downs of their ‘new normal.’
An Army National Guard veteran shared, “When I came back from a deployment six years ago, things changed…and I just wondered when everything would stop changing. Being deployed, we knew each day would be different and we were prepared. Being home, you just want things the same. But each day is different…and it’s hard.”
On the second day of camp, families worked together to navigate hiking trails and a ropes course. They learned to communicate effectively, encourage consistently, and eventually, survived as a unit.
Overcoming obstacles are common for military families; constant moving, multiple deployments, mental illness, and visible and invisible injuries are hurdles that take skill and precision in conquering, but with the proper tools, navigation, and resources, like Healing Adventures, families find the confidence to tackle life together.
“This is the first year I’ve started to get involved with some veterans groups to retrain and reintegrate myself, and find my brotherhood and sisterhood of veterans. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to go back into ‘the normal world,’” said one Army Reserves dad.
As the weekend came to a close, and families roasted s’mores together recounting the day’s adventures, one thing was clear: surviving doesn’t happen alone.
Are you a veteran military family? What survival skills have you learned to cope with life after the military?