A river of opportunity

Raytheon, No Barriers take 10 wounded veterans on Grand Canyon trek

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Cory Remsburg (center) drapes an arm around Johnny Walker (left) and gets a hand from Daniel Kester (right) as they finish a 7.5-mile hike out of the Grand Canyon. The wounded military veterans were among 10 participants in the Raytheon – No Barriers Grand Canyon Veteran Wilderness Expedition. 

Before Cory Remsburg  joined the U.S. Army – on his 18th birthday – he was just a happy kid with a fearless attitude and dreams of becoming an Army Ranger. Leaping from planes was what he wanted to do.

He served 10 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. His military career was cut short in 2009 when an improvised explosive device launched him into the air. When he landed, a chunk of his skull broke away.

Remsburg spent months in a coma. When he woke up, he was partially paralyzed and blind in one eye.

But his courage remained strong as he re-learned how to walk, talk and eat. President Obama even told Remsburg’s story during the January 2014 State of the Union address. This month, Remsburg put himself to a new test – a rafting and hiking expedition through the Grand Canyon. He is one of 10 wounded veterans who took part in the trek, sponsored by Raytheon and the nonprofit No Barriers organization.

The challenge didn't intimidate Remsburg. Very little does.

“I’ve jumped from 23,000 feet,” he said.

Former U.S. Army Rangers Cory
Former U.S. Army Rangers Cory Remsburg and Expedition Leader John Masters teamed up to take on challenges of the Raytheon – No Barriers Veteran Wilderness Expedition.

Remsburg and his fellow veterans took part in a 10-day adventure that included whitewater rafting down the Colorado River and a 7.5-mile hike on the famous Bright Angel Trail. The expedition is designed to help veterans re-establish their sense of purpose and shed the emotional and psychological wounds of war.

Letting it go

Somewhere in the Colorado River, there is a piece of driftwood with a few words scrawled on it: "Depression." "Victim mentality."

Jeremy Brown put it there, because he wanted to let those things go. Halfway through the voyage, he and the other veterans each grabbed a stick and etched whatever they felt was holding them back.

"I wrote the depression and victim mentality. We took those sticks and we threw them into the river ... we no longer had to carry them," said Brown, a U.S. Army veteran who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from Afghanistan, where two soldiers in his unit were killed in IED attacks.

The exercise was just one way the expedition taught the veterans they can move on with their lives.

"We all want to live life with a purpose, but barriers get in our way and we provide transformative experiences to help people break through them," said Cindy Bean, chief development officer of No Barriers.

Three Wounded Veterans at Colorado River
Three wounded military veterans look down on the Colorado River upon arriving for a 10-day expedition through the Grand Canyon. 

raining on the trail

A flash flood on the final day turned the camp into a slick, muddy mess. But the team still set out just after sunrise for a slow slog on the trail – the final stretch of their journey. As they made their way out of the canyon, an exhausted Remsburg threw an arm around fellow Army veteran Johnny Walker and got a hand from Air Force veteran Daniel Kester. That's the same type of teamwork they used in the service, said Nick Colgin, an Army veteran who now works for No Barriers.

"Expeditions and missions are similar in so many ways," he said. "This expedition with Raytheon is no different."

Raytheon Missile Systems President Dr. Taylor W. Lawrence hiked into the canyon to meet the team.

"The fact that we can help them get back on their feet, both literally and figuratively, is incredible for the company," Lawrence said. "The company is proud to be a part of that and to help give back."

Veterans Grand Caynon Wilderness Expedition
Veterans on the Raytheon – No Barriers Grand Canyon Wilderness Expedition push a 1,000-pound raft back into the Colorado River. 

building the team

Before they set out, team members volunteered at the Flagstaff Family Food Center, a local food bank in Arizona. They sifted through donations and filled Halloween treat bags for children.

“The service project was a great way for them to tackle something important and learn how to work as a team,” Bean said.

Volunteer Flagstaff Family Food Center
Team members volunteer at the Flagstaff Family Food Center, filling treat bags for the Harvest of Books Halloween Festival sponsored by the Flagstaff Family Food Center.

After the work at the food bank, Raytheon hosted a welcome dinner for the team at their hotel, thanking them for their service and sacrifices, and explaining why the company started sponsoring the expedition last year.

Raytheon has made a $10 million, five-year commitment to support military veterans and their families through initiatives such as college scholarships and a partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Veterans are also a major part of Raytheon’s culture, with more than 10,000 former service members working for the company worldwide.

Walking for the warriors

While the team continued its journey, more than 100 supporters in Tucson, Arizona, gathered at a local theme park on Oct. 17 to walk in their honor and raise about $7,000 for the cause.

Among those walking was John Freeman, a U.S. Army veteran who took part in a No Barriers expedition through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado last year. After the military, he resumed his education at Arizona State University to find he suddenly had trouble talking to people. He said going on the No Barriers trip gave him confidence.

“This organization and sponsorships from companies like Raytheon have helped me – have changed my life, have gotten me back on track,” said Freeman, who now works as a finance manager at a car dealership. “Every day, I hit the ground and I think, ‘man, I’m ready to go into work. I’m ready to do this.’”

Published On: 10/15/2015
Last Updated: 10/30/2019