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June 23, 2017
Fourteen military veterans from the four-state region and beyond took to Mozingo Lake Recreation Park and Northwest Missouri State University’s Mozingo Outdoor Education Recreation Area (MOERA) this week to learn about ways they can better deal with the mental and emotional effects of combat.
The program, called Project Odyssey, is a product of the Wounded Warrior Project and designed to assist veterans dealing with invisible wounds of war, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and combat stress anxiety.
Wounded Warrior conducts the program about 10 to 12 times a year and looked to Mozingo as a destination this summer in partnership with Northwest’s School of Health Science and Wellness.
Dr. Terry Long, the director of Northwest’s School of Health Science and Wellness, said Project Odyssey has relevance to the School’s academic programs, particularly its therapeutic recreation program, and it represents the type of professional work many graduates of the School enter.
“On a broader scale, the purpose of the School beyond the University is to serve the community in terms of the community’s health, the community’s wellness,” Long said. “This is a way for us to reach out and use our resources to support the surrounding community and the region, beyond Maryville and Nodaway County.”
Long noted the initiative also supports Northwest’s standing as a Military-Friendly School and desire to support military personnel.
“It’s an honor and really humbling to be able to provide a program for these guys,” Long said. “You don’t really recognize the value it has until you’re there and experiencing it. You go home every night thinking about the sacrifice they’ve made.”
The veterans’ week included navigating the ropes challenge course and practicing field archery at MOERA as well as mindfulness activities and educational lectures to help them better understand their conditions and learn about resources available to them.
“We talk about them being able to challenge themselves and get out of their comfort zone so they can used to their new normal,” Anthony Day, a combat stress recovery manager with the Wounded Warrior Project’s Kansas City region and a veteran with 26 years in the U.S. Navy, said. “They want to be back to where they were before their combat deployments. It’s helping them develop coping skills to better deal with who they are now.”
On Thursday morning the group competed in a friendly fishing contest, for which a number of local residents and businesses volunteered boats and time. During the afternoon, the veterans were set to play a round of golf at Mozingo Lake Golf Course, but Day emphasized the package of activities is not designed to be a fun retreat.
“It’s not just to fill time with activities,” he said. “With every activity that we do, we provide a debrief of how they can apply these different things into their life. It’s adventure-based counseling, experiential learning. It’s learning through the different experiences and learning and developing new coping skills.”
Day said about 85 percent of Project Odyssey participants report developing coping skills and improving their lifestyles as they work to transition back into civilian life. This week’s participants hailed Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska as well as Texas, Oklahoma and Illinois.
“They’re in a better place than they were before Project Odyssey,” Day said. “It’s not the end-all to helping them get through PTSD or some of the other stressors that they have, but it’s a new tool. They leave here with new skills in their personal toolbox to be able to use in their daily lives to help them cope with what they’re doing. It’s about empowering them and enabling them to help themselves.”
Also assisting the group throughout the week was Corey Wright, a Seward, Nebraska, native who earned his bachelor’s degree in in recreational therapy at Northwest in 2001. Wright has been employed with Wounded Warrior since 2015 as a combat stress recovery specialist and has worked in the areas of spinal cord and traumatic brain injury rehab for the last six years.
As a graduate student at Northwest during the early 2000s, Wright assisted with marketing MOERA in its early days. He recalled Mozingo and reached out to Long as Wounded Warrior was searching for a location to host Project Odyssey.
“It’s nice to know my roots are able to give back to the Wounded Warrior mission,” Wright said. “Nature’s key. Water’s soothing. It has the high ropes course and any of the challenges where we can debrief about what they achieved as a group and individually. It’s about their struggles and how to apply those coping skills to life.”
Northwest and Mozingo Lake Recreation Park will host a second iteration of the Wounded Warrior Project’s Project Odyssey July 24- 28 for military personnel and their spouses.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468