Veterans bond in great outdoors

Don’t miss the somber yet stirring opening of this week’s American Legion Tango Alpha Lima podcast.

After the brief tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice one year ago amid the pullout from Afghanistan, the podcast co-hosts welcome Army veteran Aaron Leonard. On this week’s episode Leonard discusses his military career, work with the Sierra Club and more.

Leonard enlisted in 1987 and was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division, serving on the border of North and South Korea. Later, as a major, he was twice deployed in 2009 and 2010 to Iraq. In 2014, he retired as a lieutenant colonel.

After returning home from Iraq for about four months he was among a group of veterans who went on a dog sledding excursion in Minnesota in March with Outward Bound Veterans.

“I would encourage anybody who can to participate in that,” he said, recalling the first night. “The next thing I know I’m on a frozen lake, and it’s 30 below zero, laying in between these two fellow soldiers I spent a year with overseas. For the first time in a decade, I sensed peace and calm.”

And with that Leonard charted his post-service career path, working with veterans with outdoor activities.

“We know that a well-run outdoor program directly benefits a veterans wellness needs: spiritual, emotional, physical and social,” said Leonard, a member of American Legion Post 1 in Albany, N.Y. “Outcomes are commonly reported as: decrease in loneliness; increase in belonging; increase in sense of purpose; and increase in overall wellbeing.”

Among the primary issues, he noted, are the challenge in getting veterans into outdoor recreation areas. He is active in trying to address that issue. He is currently co-chairman of the Outdoor Rx Coalition with the New York State Division of Veterans Services, part of the Sierra Club’s Outdoor Rx program.

Such recreation opportunities include outdoor adventures followed by a campfire where veterans continue to bond.

“Now, you’re just telling stories,” he said. “And once you find out everyone’s branch of service, then there is the competitiveness, snarky comments going back and forth. So it has created that comfortable environment that a lot of us miss from our time in the service.”

Find out more by checking out this week’s entire episode. It is among more than 140 that are all available in both audio and video formats here. You can also download episodes on iTunes, Stitcher or other major podcast-hosting sites. The video version is available for viewing at the Legion’s YouTube channel.