Grand County organization helps heal scars of war
April 14, 2015
War leaves many scars, not all of them visible.
As a new generation of warriors returns home from foreign fields they are discovering that recovery is not a destination, but a process. Nathan Newkirk, President CEO and founder of Rocky Mountain Warriors Project, knows all about that journey.
Newkirk is an unassuming young man with sandy brown hair whose eyes seem much older than his face. Born in 1983, he spent nearly seven years in the military. He joined up in 2002 serving in both the Navy and the Army. He fought alongside Marines as a Navy Corpsman and also worked as an Army truck driver. He did tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
After coming home from serving his country Newkirk struggled to readjust to civilian life.
"I basically didn't leave my house for a year," he said.
Not long after he was medically discharged from the military in 2012, Newkirk took part in a veteran's program called Project Healing Waters, conducted at Blue Valley Ranch. The idea for RMWP developed out of that experience.
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In 2012 Newkirk and a few of his fellow veterans founded the RMWP.
"Basically we decided we wanted to do something like Project Healing Waters but on a larger scale and including hunting, snowmobiling and other activities like that," said Newkirk.
The RMWP seeks to help veterans readjust to civilian life through recreational activities in the serene beauty of Grand County. Events for the RMWP are held throughout the county at various locations depending on the activity the veterans will be engaged in.
"We try and get guys out of large city areas," said Newkirk. "We just want to get them away, to kind of reset. To get back to normalcy, to where they are not having to look over their shoulder for everything."
The RMWP has worked with around 60 veterans since its inception. They have conducted events with members of the Army, Navy, Air force and Marines. Newkirk said the organization has not yet worked with any Coast Guard veterans. They work with both male and female veterans.
Newkirk explained that most of the programs participants have been from Colorado.
"We have had some from other states and we are branching out," he said.
A few of the veterans who have participated in RMWP events have expressed interest to Newkirk in establishing secondary chapters for the organization outside of Colorado.
One female veteran who recently participated in the Grand Lake Ice Fishing Tournament through the RMWP has agreed to begin doing photography and videography for the organization. Veteran networking is important to the RMWP. The organization has relied on word-of-mouth referrals over the past several years to market its services.
To call the RMWP a labor of love for Newkirk is something of an understatement.
"All of the funding has been from my retirement and inheritance," he said.
He is currently working to spread the word about the RMWP and hopes to set up community fundraisers.
"Right now we are looking to lock down more funding for more events for vets," he said. "Getting grants is like pulling teeth."
This July RMWP will hold its third annual motorcycle run from Denver to Poncho & Lefty's in Grand Lake. In March, eighth graders from East Grand Middle School conducted a fundraiser for RMWP called "Place Your Bets for the Vets."
The RMWP is a nonprofit organization run out of Nathan's house here in Grand County. He said the organization is still waiting on approval for their federal nonprofit status.
Looking to the future Nathan hopes to expand RMWP to provide more event opportunities for more veterans. He dreams of securing enough funds for the RMWP to allow the program to purchase a ranch in Grand County; providing veterans who come to events with a place to stay along with a centralized location for their activities.
The importance of the work done by RMWP is difficult for those of us who have not experienced war to fully understand. The wounds left by conflict, both seen and unseen, take years to heal; and in their wake they leave a scar.
The RMWP and Nathan Newkirk are working hard to heal those wounds and remind veterans that they are far more than the sum of their scars.