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

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Tod Perry

The first few months after having a newborn are seriously stressful. It's tough to get any sleep and your entire schedule revolves around the needs of the baby.

It's expensive, too! It seems like you're constantly shelling out $25 for a box of diapers and $40 for a can of formula.

So it's understandable that a Facebook user who goes by the name of Chris Blaze asked for a deal when buying a Samsung washer and dryer set of a guy named Dave he met online.

Keep Reading Show less