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Montana is an amazing place for Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation’s (WQW) work. If it weren’t for the scenic Big Sky and the rivers that run through it, hundreds of combat veterans would not have experienced the countless, therapeutic benefits provided by outdoor recreation opportunities.

The serenity offered in this special place is critical to WQW’s mission to be a catalyst for positive change in the lives of post-9/11 combat veterans through the experience of fly fishing. Founded in 2007, WQW operates exclusively in Southwest Montana — the heart of trout country — on purpose.

Our program is focused on serving those whose reintegration challenges can include physical wounds (including amputations and chronic pain) and/or unseen wounds (including PTS and TBI). Feelings of isolation and a loss of a mission are issues many veterans separating from the military experience. While learning the art of fly fishing is a “goal,” the most important objectives for WQW are to assist our participants in achieving better mental health, improved relationships, and a greater sense of purpose.

Luis Marden, rod builder and National Geographic journalist, observed that: “Fishing is a solace…the opposite of war…a gentle and healing occupation.” WQW has adopted this sentiment as a motto of sorts. At its core, the catch-and-release philosophy is healing in and of itself. Combat veterans are trained to kill and many have been hunted themselves; to release a wild creature after the hunt in some of the most inexpressibly restorative landscapes we call home is a powerful and important contrast in one’s journey of recovery.

As a consequence of the incessant, numbing exposure to violence and stress through multiple combat tours, many veterans and active duty service members experience survivor’s guilt, depression, anxiety, general distrust, destructive sleep patterns, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, physical and emotional abuse, broken families, and staggering medical and mental health care costs. As a tool to combat these negative impacts of war, WQW takes the value of the outdoor beauty in Montana seriously. As John Carter, U.S. Army, said of his WQW experience: “…oh my gosh…a year’s worth of therapy in a single day!”

The last question we ask our warrior participants in their post-event survey is, “If anything, what would you like to change in your life over the next 12 months?” The overwhelming response is usually something to the effect of “move to Montana.” We believe this has to do with many aspects of our program but we know one key player is the scenic, open, wild, restorative beauty of Montana.

July is Montana Open Land month, a nonpartisan celebration of what makes Montana feel like Montana. Montana’s landscapes are invaluable to our work — they are healing. On behalf of those we “serve,” we are grateful to those who manage and preserve the public and private lands on which we take warriors, the best professional guides in the business, and the outdoor recreation industry.

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Faye Nelson is the executive director of Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation, an apolitical non-profit based in Bozeman. WQW is not affiliated with nor receives funding from any other veteran groups.

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