The incredible reason this veteran hiked nearly 40 miles through the Rocky Mountains.
True
DAV

During a routine medical exam in 2015, army veteran Will Montgomery got a diagnosis he never expected.

The VA diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as a traumatic brain injury. He was retiring early from the Army due to an unrelated injury when his disabilities were discovered.

“I was shocked,” he explains. “I didn’t really think I had a problem.”


With so much loss around him, his initial struggles with depression and anxiety had felt like a normal part of military life.

“We all go to war, we all lose somebody that’s close to us. Some of us lose more than others,” he says.

And Montgomery’s losses had affected him far more than he thought. In 2011, a rocket attack on the base where he was serving in Iraq had claimed the lives of three of his fellow soldiers in 2011. And while he had survived the attack, he didn’t leave unscathed. The memories and trauma of those events would echo on.

Photo by israel palacio/Unsplash.

It wasn’t until he started to transition back into civilian life, though, that he realized just how much of an impact that trauma had on him.

“When you get out, you start trying to adapt into the civilian world, and people start to look at you like, ‘You’re not right.’”

Montgomery was struggling to relate to other civilians, who didn’t seem to understand him. He began longing for the camaraderie that he’d found in the military, but it was difficult to find. He was having thoughts of suicide and started drinking heavily to cope. This led him to isolate himself and even landed him in jail for starting fights.

“You just kind of feel like you’re broken at that point,” he says.

To make matters worse, in his home of Northwest Colorado, the nearest mental health provider that would take his insurance was nearly four hours away by car. While he was willing to make the journey, it wasn’t sustainable over the long term. And without access to reliable care, he faced an uphill battle.

That’s why he decided to reach out to the Denver Veterans’ Affairs office to ask for their help.

Images via Will Montgomery.

They connected him with an intensive, seven-week treatment program for veterans with PTSD where he was finally able to get the proper support he needed to better address his trauma. With the help of cognitive and occupational therapies, which taught him new coping and social skills, he began to see how he could find his place again in the civilian world.  

He sobered up and he started working out again, and, one day at a time, he began to rebuild his life.

“I wanted to change my path and be a husband and be a father again,” he says. Recovery wasn’t just about sobriety and therapy. It was also about finding his way back to himself.

“When I got out of the Army, I had to find a whole new identity of who I was. I felt like I lost me,” he says.

To rediscover his sense of self, he wrote down different affirmations on sticky notes, and put them all around his house: “I’m a father,” “I’m a husband,” “I’m successful," “I’m a veteran,”

“Just little things, so that when I walked around, it’s like, ‘That’s who I am,’” he explains.

Like many survivors, Montgomery had taken his diagnosis to mean that something was wrong with him but with time, he was able to push back against that assumption, realizing he was much more than a diagnosis. And through that process, he found his calling — by being visible, he wanted to show others that trauma survivors are much more than the labels that their doctors give them, too.

“Anybody with PTSD needs to understand that just because we have it, we’re not broken,” he says.

Passionate about fitness as part of his own recovery, he wanted to challenge himself physically, but he also wanted to be visible for other survivors who may be struggling in silence. That’s why Montgomery decided that he would hike around Colorado.

So in May 2017, Montgomery walked from Craig to Hayden, Colorado, 17.6 miles, to raise awareness for PTSD.

With the support of his local veteran organizations, his walk got the attention of community members, who were eager to help. While he hadn’t expected to raise money, people opened up their wallets, and he was able to raise a thousand dollars for a local veteran in need. He quickly realized he was onto something.

And that’s why, this last May, he did it again. Only this time, he pushed himself even further.

He hiked nearly 40 miles through Rabbit Ears Pass in the Rocky Mountains — which ranges from 6,000 to almost 10,000 feet in elevation — raising nearly 4,000 dollars for local veterans along the way. Joined by Army veteran Ryan Fritz and Tracy Santistevan, the hike even got the attention of local news media, who were inspired by their determination.

“[The hike] was actually nerve-wracking,” he laughs. “I was sore the next day, but I lived.” The hike took an entire day to complete, but it became a powerful symbol of perseverance for Montgomery and survivors like him.

To honor survivors, he carried 42 names with him in his vest during the hike. “These were people that either suffered from PTSD and died in combat, or … [survived but] don’t know how to cope with it yet,” he says. “Those are people I carried with me in my vest that day.”

And Montgomery isn’t stopping with just two hikes. He’s already planning next year’s hike, which he plans to make even more challenging by making his way across the entire state of Colorado — close to 200 miles — with a group of other advocates like him.

“The key is to get awareness out there,” he explains.

In true army fashion, Montgomery hasn’t forgotten his comrades. Looking to the future, he’s eager to do more to empower veterans and civilians alike.

For him, service to others is just the military way. “You made a bigger commitment than to just yourself,” he says. “We didn’t do it for us.”

That’s why he returned to college to get his associate’s degree in psychology, which he’s now using to establish a veterans support group in his local community. He also offers free fitness coaching to new army recruits to prepare them for basic training and as a next step, he plans to start a gym where he hopes to offer free gym memberships to veterans, as well as recovering addicts who commit to staying sober.

While his life changed forever the moment he was diagnosed with PTSD, his pain has given him an even greater purpose.

No longer letting his mental health diagnosis hold him back, he’s determined to use his experiences to lift up others. “[In the Army,] I wasn’t the leader who wanted my name recognized,” he explains. “I wanted my soldiers recognized.”

True
Back Market

Between the new normal that is working from home and e-learning for students of all ages, having functional electronic devices is extremely important. But that doesn't mean needing to run out and buy the latest and greatest model. In fact, this cycle of constantly upgrading our devices to keep up with the newest technology is an incredibly dangerous habit.

The amount of e-waste we produce each year is growing at an increasing rate, and the improper treatment and disposal of this waste is harmful to both human health and the planet.

So what's the solution? While no one expects you to stop purchasing new phones, laptops, and other devices, what you can do is consider where you're purchasing them from and how often in order to help improve the planet for future generations.

Keep Reading Show less
via Pexels.com

The Delta Baby Cafe in Sunflower County, Mississippi is providing breastfeeding assistance where it's needed most.

Mississippi has the third lowest rate of breastfeeding in America. Only 70% of infants are ever-breastfed in the state, compared to 84% nationally.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants be exclusively breastfed for their first six months of life. However, in Mississippi, less than 40% are still breastfeeding at six months.

Keep Reading Show less
True

$200 billion of COVID-19 recovery funding is being used to bail out fossil fuel companies. These mayors are combatting this and instead investing in green jobs and a just recovery.

Learn more on how cities are taking action: c40.org/divest-invest


via msleja / TikTok

In 2019, the Washoe County School District in Reno, Nevada instituted a policy that forbids teachers from participating in "partisan political activities" during school hours. The policy states that "any signage that is displayed on District property that is, or becomes, political in nature must be removed or covered."

The new policy is based on the U.S. Supreme Court's 2018 Janus decision that limits public employees' First Amendment protections for speech while performing their official duties.

This new policy caused a bit of confusion with Jennifer Leja, a 7th and 8th-grade teacher in the district. She wondered if, as a bisexual woman, the new policy forbids her from discussing her sexuality.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

We've heard from U.S. intelligence officials for at least four years that other countries are engaging in disinformation campaigns designed to destabilize the U.S. and interfere with our elections. According to a recent New York Times article, there is ample evidence of Russia attempting to push American voters away from Joe Biden and toward Donald Trump via the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency, which has created a network of fake user accounts and a website that billed itself as a "global news organization."

The problem isn't just that such disinformation campaigns exist. It's that they get picked up and shared by real people who don't know they're spreading propaganda from Russian state actors. And it's not just pro-Trump content that comes from these accounts. Some fake accounts push far-left propaganda and disinformation in order to skew perceptions of Biden. Sometimes they even share uplifting content to draw people in, while peppering their feeds with fake news or political propaganda.

Most of us read comments and responses on social media, and many of us engage in discussions as well. But how do we know if what we're reading or who we're engaging with is legitimate? It's become vogue to call people who seem to be pushing a certain agenda a "bot," and sometimes that's accurate. What about the accounts that have a real person behind them—a real person who is being paid to publish and push misinformation, conspiracy theories, or far-left or far-right content?

Keep Reading Show less