U.S. Army and U.S. Coast Guard veteran Dave Young paused just a moment to hold back a tear as he recalled hiking through the mountains of Colorado. “During one of the expedition’s hikes, we followed a trail that led to an incredibly beautiful valley,” he said. “My fellow veterans and I just sat there, almost speechless.”
For Young, this wasn’t an ordinary hiking trip in the Colorado wilderness. Young was one of a dozen former military men and women selected to participate in the No Barriers Warriors program.
No Barriers Warriors is a five-day, all-expenses-paid expedition in the Red Feather Lakes region of Colorado for veterans with disabilities. Sponsored by CoBank, the program is designed to help veterans with disabilities transform their lives through curriculum-based experiences in challenging environments.
Young, along with a few other veterans from the greater Grand Traverse area, was nominated by Cherryland and selected by CoBank to participate in the expedition in 2019. “The whole experience was wonderful,” said Young. “I was delighted that I was able to go.”
In his youth, Young graduated from the Army ROTC program at Western Michigan University. He later served in Germany for two years, notably during the construction of the Berlin Wall. When he returned home, he garnered an interest in aviation, serving as an air observer in the National Guard. He later worked as a helicopter pilot, flying men and equipment to and from offshore drilling locations, before joining the U.S. Coast Guard.
Today, at the age of 83, Young is one of the oldest veterans to have participated in the program. It was this fact that, upon arriving at basecamp, concerned him a little. “I was old enough to be the grandfather of everyone there,” he chuckled.
Young was familiar with the rigors of mountainous excursions. In fact, shortly after finishing his service in Germany, Young climbed the Matterhorn, the famous mountain of the Alps, whose summit is one of the highest in Europe.
“I really pushed myself on that climb,” he explained. “And I walked away from that experience thinking, ‘If I can do that, I can do anything.’ I think that is the feeling many of us took away from the No Barriers Warriors program.”
Each of Young’s days in Colorado was filled with physical challenges, including hiking, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting. Every step of the way, the group was led by a number of guides who were not only experts in these activities, but were disabled veterans as well. “They were so helpful and brought a real upbeat attitude,” Young said.
After each long day, the group would eat and rest around a bonfire. They often talked about their military service and experiences. And it was in these discussions that Young admitted feeling moments of guilt.
“While I had some harrowing experiences as a helicopter pilot in the Coast Guard, they were nothing compared to what some of these young people had gone through during their service,” he explained.
However, it was the words of the expedition’s captain that gave him perspective. “‘You’re an inspiration to these young people,’” Young recalls tearfully. “’ They’ve got demons they’re fighting, and you’re proof that they can get through it.’”
On their last day, each participant was given a medal to symbolize what they had done over the expedition. They were also given a mission.
“We were asked to be disciples of the program and let other people know what they are offering to veterans,” explained Young.
So, if you were interested in the No Barriers Warriors program, Young, fulfilling his mission, would tell you simply, “Boy, go for it! You will be thrilled with the results.”