This weekend, veterans from around the West will be visiting the rolling, boulder-strewn landscape of the Dragoon Mountains south of Tucson to participate in a writing workshop that will guide them on skills needed to create narratives of fiction, non-fiction, or poetry that is informed both by their service experiences and the natural environment. Set in the quiet surroundings of one of Arizona’s most revered wild landscapes, the Veterans Wilderness Writing Workshop is led by five-war veteran Ron Capps, whose memoir Seriously Not Alright comes out in May and will be featured at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe this evening at 7 p.m.
The Veterans Wilderness Writing Retreat is a collaborative endeavor with The Wilderness Society and is structured to offer veterans, active and reserve service members, and military family members a life-enriching writing experience and an enduring connection to America’s wild public lands, which offer valuable resources for personal reflection, spiritual renewal, and testing of our physical and emotional strength.
“This year is the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, passed in 1964 to protect America’s disappearing landscapes,” says Mike Quigley, Arizona State Director for TWS based in Tucson. “We've heard from veterans that they fight for American principles; for our freedoms, way-of-life, ideals, and land. We've heard from them that it's the memory of a favorite trout stream, a mountain summit, a desert hike that gives them comfort when deployed and helps them reconnect when they return. This workshop is a chance to tie together multiple narratives about why protecting wilderness is still so relevant today—especially to our service men and women.”
Capps’ book details not only his role as peacekeeper in Rwanda, Iraq, and Kosovo and combat duty in Afghanistan, but his return home and recovery (still ongoing) from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and his subsequent career as a teacher and founder of the Veterans Writing Project in Washington, D.C., where he provides veterans with the skills to tell their own stories, and in his words, "write their way home."
Veterans, especially combat vets, tend to become isolated when returning to civilian life and college, Capps says, adding that writing is a way for them to reintegrate. "Because the military is all about team cohesion - it's the mission of the team that's the most important - and all of a sudden, you're by yourself," he says. "You've always had the platoon, the squad, your buddy, your wingman. In many cases, that person doesn't exist anymore at the university. So, we're trying to beat the sense of isolation."
Participants will be hiking, writing, and taking part in small breakout coaching sessions with Capps, where the rugged backdrop of the Dragoons will serve as a challenging yet peaceful setting for the workshop’s reflective focus. Participants are attending from Arizona, California, Wyoming, Nevada, and from as far away as Iowa.
The Wilderness Society is the leading wild public lands conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than 500,000 members and supporters, TWS has led the effort to permanently protect 110 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org
The Veterans Writing Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit based in Washington DC founded by veterans and family members. We provide no-cost writing seminars and workshops for veterans, active and reserve service members, and military family members. www.VeteransWriting.org