letter from founder

Letter from founder…

Since 2003, Warriors on Cataract has been taking Wounded Warriors on yearly, multi-day whitewater raft trips on the Colorado and Green Rivers in Utah. As of 2023, we’ve conducted 54 trips. Licensed river outfitters run approximately four trips for us each year. These trips are free of charge to the veterans. Of the almost 1000 veterans, caregivers and supporters who have come along, we have lost not to taking their own lives. This sadly contrasts with the nearly 8,000 who die by their own hands each year.

These 4-day and 5-day whitewater excursions in the remote, peaceful, and beautiful wilderness regions surrounding Cataract, Desolation and Lodore Canyons offer a very effective setting for disabled / at-risk veterans to communicate and bond with other vets who understand and “who have been there”. We see unequivocal evidence that the connections and bonds spawned on these trips significantly help bring these soldiers, sailors, and airmen back home and into society. We see these trips heal the visible and invisible wounds suffered in their military service. Many tell us the trip has been life changing. Some tell us they have weaned themselves off substance abuse, a ubiquitous symptom of military experience, and all despite a lack of enough support or a clear purpose upon returning home. Some have thanked us for saving their lives. VA therapists tell us that some have been taken off High Risk Suicide Watch after the raft trips. The therapists also tell us that these river trips are worth years of therapy, and that the soldiers are the best healers among themselves. This latter point is best said by Lt. General Bernard Trainor (Korea, Viet Nam):

“But as earlier generations know, often the best medicine for bruised bodies and psyches is communion with those who have supped from the same bitter cup.  From the dawn of civilization, hunters and warriors shared danger in packs. Through the ages, comrades have sustained each other through the heat of battle. Comrades play the same role when the war is done.”

Photo albums are given out to all participants. They bring the participants back to the experiences of their raft trip, to recall the good times with their buddies (without alcohol) and encourage them to keep up their contacts with their buddies. As dim as their futures may seem to them, as you go through these albums you will see smiles, no frowns, soldiers in the familiar comfort of other soldiers and a rekindling of the camaraderie they had in the Military.

Photo albums are also given to Warriors on Cataract Canyon donors, monetary and in kind and as volunteers, as a gesture of thanks for their support and to show the fruits of their donations. Because the commercial outfitters, motels, and other providers are charging us about 1/3 the going rates, we obtain about a 4 to 1 leverage on the donated dollars. On behalf of these donors and supporters, I wholeheartedly thank you for your support and interest in the wellbeing of our veterans.

We ran five trips this year. Two were in May during an epic high-water season. Combat soldiers are adrenaline junkies and want the high water. The first was for all branches of our military, and conducted by Navtec. The second was conducted by Worldwide River Expeditions for Navy SEALS, Air Force Pararescue and a Special Operations Marine. We also had an amputee Ukrainian soldier on board. He was shown a splendid time. His daughter reports back from Ukraine that “Dad is over the Moon about the trip!”

Because many of the female veterans have been assaulted (reportedly 1 in 2) and raped (1 in 3) and would be uneasy camping with male soldiers, the next three trips were All-Female, including the guides and crew. Red Tail Aviation flew them into a remote airstrip in Desolation Canyon. The river flow was low, the water was warm, the beaches were wide, and the rapids were suitable for putting the women in paddle boats and sport kayaks. They were also able to float the rapids and quiet water in their life jackets, a big hit and confidence builder. There was also yoga, meditation,
mindfulness, hiking, and lots of campfire time. These are our best trips, most healing, and most rewarding to us. We also had an All-Female trip through the Gates of Lodore, hosted by OARS. The Desolation Canyon trips were hosted by Sherri Griffith Expeditions.

The guides and crew were, as always, beyond excellent and evoked high praise from the participants. They love doing these veterans trips and vie to be on the crew.

Ravens Rim Ziplines zipped those who wanted that experience, free of charge. Two of the six zip links are 1,300 feet long!!

To the participants, we are very glad you came along. We are happy you could make it and share these experiences with other soldiers. We are gratified and rewarded to see the bonding, healing, and mutual support that grows out of these adventures.

To the contributors, thank you for supporting what is evolving into very effective adventures that help to heal those who served our nation at great personal cost. We owe it to them.

– Fredrick Solheim

Fredrick Solheim