Local Volunteers Dish out Hospitality During No Barriers Week
MONTROSE – Retired U.S. Army soldier John Whitaker came to Montrose this week anxiously awaiting his opportunity to fly fish. As a lifelong angler he remained sheepishly embarrassed about not having much success in the art before, but the former "crash firefighter," medic and Army mechanic said he was ready to learn as much as possible during the week-long Welcome Home Montrose Mission: No Barriers. It’s a time for veterans to enjoy the good life with local hospitality found in Montrose and Ouray counties.
During a potluck dinner Tuesday evening, 30 veterans, some from Colorado and some from out-of-state, including nearby Wyoming, shared baked beans, salad and other entrees while enriching common bonds and friendships with fellow veterans and local families who have had loved ones serve in America's armed forces. The dinner was the event's kickoff, a result of the efforts of some 60 volunteers who joined together to create the grassroots No Barriers week for wounded veterans, the first of its kind in the U.S. without support from larger organizations.
"This is the first city to make a No Barriers community for wounded warriors and we're the first city to have a mission of No Barriers for wounded warriors," said organizer Tim Kenney, who served in the Army National Guard.
Kenney, who is hosting the veterans at his ranch south of town, also suffers from post traumatic stress disorder from his time in combat in Afghanistan. He knows well the nightmares some veterans suffer following military service.
"It's a blessing (to have them here) and hopefully the guys will heal. That's what we’re about," he said.
Kenney said he has five large tents along with a bunk house to accommodate the veterans during their stay. Bonfires, cookouts and camaraderie will give wounded veterans time to relax and unwind, he said.
"This is time for guys to visit with one another and hopefully get some of this stuff out of their system. We have Tai Chi in the mornings to help them learn how to relax and control their energy, and it’s a chance for the guys to bond and hopefully help heal themselves," said Kenney, who was himself the subject of a year-long series by The Denver Post about his re-integration from combat to the U.S., where he owns and operates a fly-fishing shop in downtown Montrose. That story can be found at: www.americanhomecomings.com/category/veterans-stories/tim-kenney/
Archery, fishing, jeeping, hiking, hot springs, prospecting, golf, camping, rafting, kayaking and horseback riding are the featured events for veterans who participate. Most of these events are being donated and run by local volunteers, veterans’ businesses, organizations, non-profits and churches, with area restaurants supplying the food.
"We want this to be a good experience for them as well as for us," Montrose Mayor Judy Ann Files said. "We're looking forward to seeing what we can do to help them fit in, if they choose to, to fit in to our community and find jobs and find places to live. But even if they choose not to do that we'd like to find out from these American heroes what it is that is making our community be a challenge for them. What other barriers do we need to overcome?”
Retired Army Sgt. Kenneth Kaighan of Delta, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, said he was proud to see such an event held locally.
"I think it's a great thing to show other veterans what a great community we have and to show them the great amenities the Western Slope has to offer," Kaighan said.
"When a community gets involved, they take ownership of it, and that carries over to the soldiers. The soldiers aren't coming in and taking a piece of the community; they’re coming in to take part in the community, and I think that's the big difference," Kenney said.
John Whitaker, the would-be fly fisherman, moved from Kansas to Fountain, Colo., three years ago. He was first deployed to Honduras then served in the first Gulf War in the 1990s and the second invasion in 2003 and 2004.
After the military he earned a degree in electrical engineering and now works as a transportation manager for Goodwill Industries. His only stop on the Western Slope has been Grand Junction and is looking forward to doing "everything possible” during his stay in Montrose.
"I love to fish. I'm really looking forward to learning to fly fish. I've been fishing since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, but never fly fished," Whitaker said.
Welcome Home Montrose founder Melanie Kline said most of the veterans wanted a vacation with fellow veterans and away from the public spotlight in order to relax and enjoy the great outdoors.
For information or to donate during the event call the resource center at
970/765-2210 or visit online at: www.welcomehomemontrose.org.