2013-10-03 / Outdoors

Program offers vets outdoor experience

LANSING – The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is joining forces with several partners to create, in Jackson and Washtenaw counties, Michigan’s premier outdoor recreation experience for veterans and other citizens with health challenges. Contributing organizations and groups include Camp Liberty Inc., Zero Day, Passing Along, The Heritage Foundation, Eisenhower Center, Safari Club International Foundation, the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, and Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

Fittingly titled “Operation Freedom Outdoors,” the initiative will connect Camp Liberty – an inclusive recreation center for veterans with disabilities that will be able to house veterans and their families as they participate in recreation activities and learn about various support programs and rehabilitation opportunities – with enhanced outdoor opportunities on the adjacent Sharonville State Game Area.

Operation Freedom Outdoors will have a five-year business plan that outlines the development of various outdoor experiences for individuals of all abilities. Through this initiative, the DNR and its partners intend to create a critical mass of outdoor recreation opportunities (including hunting, fishing, target shooting, bird watching and other wildlife-related activities) for veterans and others with health challenges.

“Natural resources provide unique therapeutic opportunities for injured veterans and others coping with ‘invisible wounds’ such as traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Russ Mason, DNR Wildlife Division chief. “It makes great sense that the DNR helps create this important outdoor experience for our national heroes, and the DNR is honored to be involved.”

Mason added that Michigan ranks 53rd in the nation in per capita spending on veterans, and that this partnership aims to be part of Gov. Rick Snyder’s efforts to change that ranking.

“Veterans and other people with disabilities deserve the same opportunities as the rest of us to enjoy our natural resources,” Mason said. “Providing that opportunity is really what ‘Pure Michigan’ is all about.”

“Combat survivors must be provided hope and purpose. Those are the two most powerful variables that define them as meaningful, contributing members of society in their minds,” said retired U.S. Air Force Major Richard V. Briggs, Jr., founder and president of Camp Liberty.

“Combat veterans seldom, if ever, raise their hand to seek help. Operation Freedom Outdoors will give them the conduit with which we can establish relationships forged in the great Michigan outof doors together,” said Briggs. “Our troops must get to know, like and trust us in order for them to truly open up and listen to the advocacy, awareness and treatment opportunities for them.”

Other key partners are also pitching in to support the initiative. Zero Day veterans will provide the construction and much of the habitat work on both Camp Liberty and Sharonville State Game Area, supervised and assisted by the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and the DNR. DNR staff members and volunteers, organized by MUCC, will take on other habitat improvement projects. Other partners will lend their support by donating time, equipment and funding.

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