‘Huts For Vets’ Builds Tipi Base Camp and Targets National Veterans Groups
By Paul Andersen, Executive Director, Huts For Vets
Huts For Vets is now a landmark in the Roaring Fork Valley on a spectacular site with three large tipis overlooking the Elk Range. This prime piece of rural ranch property is a long term loan by a generous local ranching family that has been a HFV supporter from the day we offered our first programs to veterans in 2013.
Base Camp allows us to stage our trips into the high mountains and introduce our participants to the peace and quiet of nature immediately upon arrival. Base Camp is off-the-grid, without cell phone service, which is a double blessing for simplifying life and removing buffers to the wildness surrounding us in a place where elk, deer, bears, eagles, coyotes and an occasional mountain lion could appear at any time.
In this our sixth year of running successful programs, having served over 180 veterans, Huts For Vets invited leadership cohorts from two national veteran organizations to bring their teams to the 10th Mountain Hut system in summer 2018.
This outreach coincided with the publication of a Huts For Vets manual, written by Paul Andersen and designed by HFV board member and veteran Erik Villasenor. The manual tells our story and shows what we do, how we do it, and why we continue running trips into the Hunter-Frying Pan Wilderness near Aspen.
The HFV manual invites veterans’ organizations to replicate our approach elsewhere and to cultivate leaders for HFV programs in Colorado where they may return as peer mentors, trip guides, and co-moderators in the philosophical discussions that set HFV apart from any other veterans’ program we’ve seen.
In order to scale up our nature- and text-based approach, a logical step is showcasing our programs to national organizations with large memberships. Taking these leadership teams into the wilderness and introducing them to the 10th Mountain Huts both increases our referral base and provides a new level of credibility to our proven methodology.
HFV has had a strong relationship with Team Red, White and Blue for several years. This athletically-oriented veterans’ program has been referring its members to HFV, thanks to Team RWB regional leader Mike Greenwood of Colorado Springs. Mike is a Tenth Mountain Division veteran who attended one of our first programs in 2013. Over the past two years, HFV has brought in well over a dozen Team RWB members from across the country.
Our programs began this year in June 2018 with a custom program designed for a leadership team from the Pat Tillman Center, which works hand-in-hand with Arizona State University (ASU) by counseling its veteran student population towards graduation. A quick bond was established with this outstanding group, which is now in close collaboration with HFV, leading to possibly running a HFV trip in Arizona in spring 2019. HFV has invited a second cohort from Tillman/ASU to Aspen next summer with two alumni co-leaders from the 2018 trip.
Team Rubicon, a national veteran-founded organization of first responders that answers calls for disaster relief, recruited a leadership cohort from Rubicon’s eight-state western region. Many Rubicon members face post-traumatic stress, not only from their military service, but from their roles as first responders, so the HFV approach was right on target.
Rubicon joined us in August with terrific discussions and another close collaboration that will lead to inviting another Rubicon cohort to a HFV trip in 2019. Both the Tillman/ASU and Rubicon cohorts included men and women, veterans and civilians, creating a well-rounded, diverse, and engaging dynamic in the wilderness and at Margy’s Hut at 11,300 feet.
Also in 2018, HFV ran two regular men’s and women’s programs and received accolades from all participants, underscoring the values of our program. This is thanks to the excellent HFV teamwork of Brian Porter, Erin Wilkinson, Justin Lincoln, Tait Andersen, Jake Sakson, Wendy Elkin, Krysia Carter-Giez, and board members Col. Dick Merritt, Dan Glidden, Don Stuber and Erik Villasenor – all of whom attended programs this year.
In 2019, Huts For Vets plans to expand our institutional outreach by inviting leaders from Vet Voice. This connection comes from a long time collaboration with Vet Voice spokesman Garett Reppenhagen, a HFV alumnus from 2015. Vet Voice has a mission for civic leadership and has become a voice of conservation advocacy, which will resonate with the wilderness immersion that marks HFV as a nature-based healing experience.
HFV is grateful to our many supporters, both financial and in-kind, and for the veterans and active duty participants who sign up for an experience that can reveal benefits for the rest of their lives.