Bringing Philosophy to Veterans in the Colorado Wilderness

Lightning flashed, thunder crashed, and rain drummed on the roof of Margy’s Hut in August 2016 as Aspen Institute senior moderator Pete Thigpen led a dozen US men and women combat veterans through a discussion of “The Melian Dialogue,” by Thucydides.

Thigpen, a Marine Corps veteran from the 1960s, opened with a tutorial on how to lead a seminar. The seminar approach is used by Huts For Vets to introduce veterans to philosophical discussions conducted amid towering mountain peaks and plunging timbered valleys in the Hunter-Frying Pan Wilderness.

In summer 2016, during its fourth year, HFV for the first time invited alumni veterans to a training program preparatory to their guiding fellow veterans into the wilds and into the world of ideas. HFV plans to expand its programs to other huts and other locations, under the leadership of veterans.

In our discussions, the moral and ethical challenges of military service are appreciated by post-9/11 veterans who directly paid the price of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and elsewhere. More than one veteran at the seminar table has described how those wars have colored their lives, often years after their homecomings.

Watch the Discussion Here

Moderator Training – The “Melian Dialogue” from Huts For Vets on Vimeo.

As Huts For Vets ramps up for five men’s and women’s programs in summer 2017, we celebrate having taken over 130 veterans into the Colorado wilderness to walk serene nature trails and plumb the philosophical depths many veterans have already pondered by facing the big questions: life, death, and the meaning of existence.

Primed by a syllabus of preassigned readings, veterans in HFV programs come to appreciate the merits of intellectual rigors as a complement to the physical rigors of hiking to Mt. Yeckel at 11,700 feet. Together, these physical and intellectual challenges provide a perspective shift that many veterans identify as the most positive, holistic healing experience they have ever undertaken.

Huts For Vets owes its existence to the 10th Mountain Hut System of Aspen and to the many funders and supporters who allow us to pay all costs for the veterans we serve.

Explore the 10th Mountain Hut System Here.

Where War Lives

Dick Durrance was raised in Aspen, worked for decades as a professional photographer, and is reopening his photo files on images he shot as a military photographer during the War in Vietnam. The three images here represent the close intensity with which Durrance chronicled the war and the soldier who fought in it. His book, “Where War Lives,” is a testament to his art and reveals the real deal as he saw it on many fronts during the war. Durrance’s slide show from this period is riveting, and he is open to taking it on the road to veterans groups, schools, communities and to anyone who can appreciate the impact his images contain. To reach him, email dick@dickdurrance.com or connect through Huts For Vets.

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Photos by: Dick Durrance, “Where War Lives”

How a Veteran Survives Survival

How a Veteran Survives Survival
By Paul Andersen, Founder and Exec. Dir. Huts For Vets
(from his Aspen Times newspaper column Monday August 29, 2016)

Most US soldiers today don’t die as casualties during war; they die afterwards, as veterans, from despair, helplessness and alienation.

Navigating their way back into the civilian world is a perilous journey. The mythical Odysseus described this well in his ten-year journey home from the killing fields of Troy.

Sebastian Junger writes: “The American military now has the highest PTSD rate in its history… American combat deaths have dropped steadily while trauma and disability claims have continued to rise… Today’s vets claim three times the number of disabilities that Vietnam vets did.”

Junger knows what he’s talking about given his own recovery from covering a war zone in Afghanistan, where he came under fire. “The inevitable counter attack started with an hour-long rocket barrage. All we could do was curl up in our trenches and hope. I felt deranged for days afterwards, as if I’d lived through the end of the world.”

You’re a Grand Old Flag

You’re a grand old flag
By Paul Andersen, Founder and Exec. Dir. Huts For Vets
(From his Aspen Times newspaper column Monday September 12, 2016)

The American flag was presented to me last week by a team of combat veterans. I had never looked at the symbol of our nation the way I did then.

The presentation was made during the final Huts For Vets trip of our busiest summer yet, where we took over 50 veterans into the wilderness for healing opportunities at the 10th Mountain Huts of Aspen.

“Huts For Vets has truly changed my life and is making me a better father, husband and leader in my community,” said Mike Greenwood, an Iraq War veteran of the Tenth Mountain Division, who handed me the neatly folded flag.

Women in the Military

Women in the Military
A Perspective from Vietnam

By Lt. Col. Janis Nark, Huts For Vets

The first military women to arrive in Vietnam were nurses. It was 1956. As the American presence in Southeast Asia grew, so too did the number of young women who served. In all, nearly 8,000 military women, and thousands more who served in the civilian sector, were there.

About 83% of us were nurses. The rest held positions in special services, supply, air traffic control, cartography, the USO, American Red Cross and many other jobs in support of our combat troops.

We were all fairly young when we volunteered to serve our country, and many of us were woefully naïve in believing our recruiters’ promises; mainly that we could be stationed anywhere in the world that we wanted, and that Vietnam was “strictly voluntary.”

Wilderness Therapy on the 10th Mountain Trails

“A wilderness area may well have more psychological importance than hundreds of beds in a mental hospital.” – Rod Nash

Wilderness therapy programs are springing up around the US as alternatives to institutional treatment settings. Researchers have discovered that therapeutic relationships are often forged more quickly in wilderness because of the forced intimacy of a small group walking within the immensity of a National Forest. This enables ideas and experiences to be more easily and openly shared, setting the stage for meaningful interpersonal communication.

With three full days in the mountains the effects of wilderness are, on their own, therapeutic. The static of the outside world becomes muted and the senses grow more acute. A calming remove from the tumult of the world is quickly achieved as there is no cell or internet reception. Focus on the ideas explored in the seminar becomes more pronounced while immersion in nature is unfiltered.