Everyone knows how important it is to help our nation's veterans cope with returning home after combat and adjusting to life outside of the military.
One group in particular knows of the importance, and has used it to create a unique organization that approaches the process of helping veterans enjoy the outdoors differently than most.
Wounded Warriors United is a Kansas-based organization that provides all-inclusive events at no cost to participating wounded warriors. What's so different about it? As founder Tom Tavtigian put it, many similar organizations get caught up in the business side of things. That's not a concern for Wounded Warriors United.
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"Some of [the other organizations] are worried about the bottom dollar," Tavtigian said. "Some of them are only going to do specific things, and I was wanting to do more than what some organizations wanted to do, and I really didn't care about the money."
Think about that for a second. How commendable is it that it's a purely non-profit organization?
"Nobody gets a paycheck here," Tavtigian said. "I have not made one penny, and that's how we want it. Everybody has to volunteer. If they're passionate about our country and they really care about what these guys did overseas, then they're going to do it with an open heart and open arms."
Tavtigian is a wounded veteran himself, having driven over an IED while on routine patrol while serving in Iraq. In the years following, he went through more than 17 surgeries.
One bright side of the experience involved the many wounded warriors Tavtigian met during his recovery. It inspired him to find a way to give back to those who had already given their country so much.
The group has connected with the Kansas City Chiefs, and an event with former players and organization members was one of the highlights of the most recent Wounded Warriors United trips.
The number of attendees for Wounded Warriors events is kept to a minimum. "That way they're small, they're controlled, and nobody falls through the cracks," Tavtigian said. "There are organizations out there who put on events where they'll have 50 or 60 wounded warriors. At some events they'll have over 100 wounded warriors. I think what they're doing is great, but when you have that many people... I could see guys that were off by themselves, nobody was talking to them. I would try to go help those guys. I didn't care about the fishing or the hunting or the bike riding. I saw a guy, he's by himself, and even though he was at this event, he shouldn't be left alone."
The goal is to continue to expand and succeed with the same strategy of organizing and executing events for smaller groups of veterans with the help of volunteers and businesses who donate time, money and fantastic outdoor opportunities.
You would assume attracting volunteers could introduce some difficulties for Tavtigian and Wounded Warriors United, but that's not the case.
"Trust me, there are people all across this country that are volunteering left and right."
"Trust me, there are people all across this country that are volunteering left and right," Tavtigian said.
Veterans who participate in Wounded Warriors United events have given nothing but positive feedback. Lasting friendships, joking and laughing, and some deep emotional connections provide "the best therapy they can get."
Tavtigian takes the opportunity to tell his story at each event, and encourages attendees to do the same. In extreme cases, trips put on by the organization have helped bring veterans back from the brink of severe depression and even suicide.
"On average, 22 veterans are committing suicide every day," Tavtigian said. "Those are horrible numbers. That's why I do what I do."
Plans to develop mentor programs through the organization are in the works, and a more distant goal includes acquiring land and accommodations to serve as a sort of "headquarters," where veterans can openly visit to participate in outdoor activities, or just unwind in a comfortable environment.
To find out more information, and join in on an event, interested veterans can visit WoundedWarriorsUnited.com, or go straight to their application page to sign up. For those hoping to volunteer which "makes a lot of this possible" according to Tavtigian, visit the contribute page.
Photos via WoundedWarriorsUnited.com