A river of opportunity
Raytheon, No Barriers take 10 wounded veterans on Grand Canyon trek
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.’”