Montana’s an adventure mecca, that draws adrenaline junkies to its peaks, valleys, trails and rivers year round. Fly-fishing to skiing and snowmobiling, for anyone who heads outdoors to find some peace (and find themselves), it’s full of endless opportunity and endless possibility.
What seasoned outdoors-people taking to the rivers and slopes of the Big Sky state might not know is who they’re next to as they descend from peaks, cast a line, or tear through the trails.
Because Montana’s home to a program that proactively cares for some of America’s most covert active-duty military personnel….providing a stop along their way home from deployment, and time to come home to themselves.
The beginnings of Big Sky Bravery
A civilian with a father and two brother-in-laws who have served, and continue to serve their country, Josh McCain had first-hand exposure to the reality of being a friend and family member to active-duty military personnel.
Specifically, personnel in the Special Operations Forces; a unique group of elite individuals navigating some of the most undercover, underground, and unknown missions in the military.
And, Josh had a close understanding of the limited resources available to active duty members to help them navigate the incredible challenge of their work...and how to return to their life at home while on leave.
They can be deployed 200+ days of the year. They come home stressed; thinking about their teammates and missions while home with their families. They feel disconnected to their community; not knowing how to build and be in relationships with people who don’t understand what they see and experience at work. They struggle to feel understood; afraid to burden friends and family with their struggles, yet aching to be seen and heard.
With ample programs, organizations and services available for veterans, Josh saw an opportunity to create something for the active teams; to proactively support them while still in service, instead of waiting to be supported when they exit active duty.
The big intent?
To do something to give back to those protecting the front lines, in gratitude and thanks for all they do to keep us safe. And, to help them come home to their loved ones feeling more trust, more hope, and more themselves.
Getting into the outdoors
It’s an experiential week that participants move through - designed to cater to their unique needs and wants, and help them decompress from recent deployment.
The week often starts with some apprehension. Each participant is new here; there are no repeat participants, so no one knows the lay of the land or what to expect.
Yet any hesitation drops almost immediately as the journey into the week begins - and as the team around each experience rallies around the group with enthusiasm, excitement and the essential message that the week is all about the participants, and getting the chance to feel the complete thrill of exploring the outdoors.
Many are visiting Montana for the first time. Some haven’t taken time for themselves in 15+ years. And while a few live close enough to pockets of nature, most don’t have the access to resources (time, money and otherwise) to fully experience the release and relief that getting outside offers.
Think of someone feeling the thrill of skiing for the first time.
Or mountain biking.
Or experiencing the calm and quiet of fishing.
THAT is the kind of wild, free, empowering experience that happens outdoors.
And when someone feels that for the first time while on this once in a lifetime trip to a Task Force with BSB (‘Task Force’ is one week of programming), it’s a life-changing experience...and just part of what goes down while on retreat.
The unexpected long term impact of decompressing, together
In all the ‘doing’, there’s also ample time for connecting. From the get-go, participants are paired 1:1 with a volunteer civilian team member. Experts in the outdoor world with huge hearts and the same drive to contribute back to the people that do so much for our collective safety, they’re right next to their partner all week.
Every night, the group recaps the day together.
Early in the week, the highlights that come from each Task Force are across a spectrum of notable moments:
- People learning a new sport
- Someone making it down a trail by the end of the week they didn’t think they could conquer
- A celebration of an epic wipe out
- A nod in the direction of how someone’s support helped them challenge themselves
And as the week rolls on, the tune changes. The shares get deeper as more and more layers of life slowly fall away; as participants shift into trust—of themselves and the people around them—and hope.
Hope, because they’ve found their way back to wellbeing they perhaps didn’t know was possible. Hope for the relationships waiting for them at home. Hope for their future beyond the Special Forces. Hope in so many directions.
Maybe it’s that mountain air that’s helping to move these personal mountains.
Or maybe it’s this safe space that Josh and Dave—his co-pilot in making these experiences meaningful ones—have created.
Regardless of the specific catalyst, these front line defenders are experiencing something new: They have a chance, for once, to show up and take a step back from their work. To not be interrogated about their work, or have to speak about their deployments. But to be in new scenarios; ones that take them outside, and out of their comfort zone.
And, into some in-between space that many haven’t explored in years - if not decades. It’s in this in-between space that they find themselves, and find their way home.
Josh McCain, Founder
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