GREAT FALLS- For the past two years, the Montana Vet Program has helped veterans heal through trips into the wilderness, and on July 13, the program will host the second annual Knuckle Buster Obstacle Challenge.
Tim Egnoski, Montana Vet Program assistant program coordinator, said the goal of the challenge is to have fun.
“You can guarantee there will be some water. There will be some dry areas. There will be hills both up and down,” Egnoski said.
But there is more to the Knuckle Buster than just obstacles. It is also to teach people what the Montana Vet Program does.
“In the bigger picture, we want this to be a connection between the community, Eagle Mount, and the Montana Vet Program,” Egnoski said.
The Montana Vet Program started two years ago with a small group of people that went into the Bob Marshall Wilderness to heal hidden wounds of war.
“We started really small, and we really tried to put on great trips to give people the experience to go back to giving them the tools that they can use later,” Egnoski said.
He added there has been a progression from the start of the program until now.
Their last trip was with a group of eight veterans who served around the same time together.
“We asked general, broad questions for feedback and what we got was, ‘I had no idea what I was going into, and it far exceeded my expectations.’”
The Montana Vet Program plans its trips from start to finish, and organizers have seen the program not only help veterans but also their families.
“It is starting to improve the lives of their spouses, their kids, and the people they interact with, which is really amazing to watch,” Egnoski said.
Now they are expanding the program by adding a Montana First Responders Program.
Egnoski said as they were looking into it, they found that more firefighters and police officers died by suicide last year than were killed in the line of duty.
He said first responders are similar people doing similar types of jobs in stressful situations. They also take problems home with them.
“Trauma is trauma and how we deal with that, it seems to be similar, whether I have served in the military or whether I fight fires or protect people in our community, there seems to be some correlation there,” Egnoski said.
The Montana Vet Program is now bringing its military-style camaraderie to those competing in the obstacle challenge.
“You see a lot of them just rallying for people they have never met. It is just building this community,” Egnoski said.
Story by Margaret DeMarco, MTN News