A canine connection
No Barriers, Raytheon and service dogs help veterans rediscover their strength
Moonlight streamed through the canyon as LaWanna Viers emerged from the jagged rocks. At her side was her service dog, Corey, hooked to her belt.
With Corey drawing her along the last mile of the Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail, Viers planted her final step firmly on the canyon’s rim.
“Corey was pulling me the whole way, showing me, ‘No, don’t stop, you can do this,'” Viers said. “And she has inspired me to take on more challenges since then.”
Viers was one of 14 wounded veterans on the 2016 Raytheon-No Barriers Grand Canyon Veteran Wilderness Expedition. It was the first time service dogs were allowed in the annual event, which is designed to help participating veterans who were wounded in combat, either physically or emotionally, to move forward with their lives.
The 2017 expedition will travel through Wyoming’s Wind River Range on a 10-day trek in August. No Barriers has recruited 12 veterans from Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and southern California to take part. (Click on the profiles below to learn more about each participant.)
Through physically challenging activities such as hiking and mountain climbing, wounded veterans learn how to face their fears and overcome obstacles, while bonding with fellow warriors. This is the fourth year that Raytheon and No Barriers Warriors have teamed for a Veteran Wilderness Expedition.
Many members of the 2017 team have had experiences similar to Viers, who served 25 years in the U.S. Air Force with combat deployments to Iraq and Kuwait. Viers sustained severe spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries. She was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
When she returned from her final tour of duty, Viers avoided people and only felt safe locked in her room at home.
“Trying to manage PTSD, it’s like fighting with myself,” she said. “It’s like trying to overcome a mountain that’s within.”
Viers decided she needed help to enjoy life again. She found new hope through the non-profit organization K-9s for Warriors, which paired her with Corey based on several compatibility tests. Service dogs can be trained to comfort their owners, open doors and retrieve a variety of items, like phones.
“My dog has literally changed my life,” Viers said. “I'm so glad I have her, because without her, there's no way I'd be out in the middle of nowhere doing stuff like this.”
Corey was joined by two more service dogs in last year's expedition:
- Diggs Brown brought Arthur, his trusty English black Labrador retriever.
- Terrence Young brought Petey, his energetic Rhodesian ridgeback/Labrador retriever mix.
“They can sense when somebody's having issues, and sit in front of them and allow them to pet him and hug him,” said Brown, who was also a leader on the expedition. “The dogs just have that effect on people; it's a wonderful, soothing effect.”
After a weeklong journey, hiking the 7.5-mile trail, whitewater rafting down the Colorado River, camping, self-reflection and team-building exercises in the Grand Canyon, Viers felt rejuvenated. She found peace alongside her fellow veterans and loyal companion.
“The transformation was gradual,” she said. “I started feeling like every day, a layer of the old skin would peel back and a new and exciting me was coming out. I was getting stronger and stronger and getting myself back.”
Since the expedition, Viers and Corey have sailed around Cuba, trekked through Lourdes, France, and are headed to the Bahamas.
“These are things I never thought I would do,” she said. “The challenging hike out of the canyon and the whitewater rafting made me realize there has to be more out in the world that I can do.”
Meet the 2017 Veteran Wilderness Expedition team:
Last Updated: 07/19/2017