At a glance, the group of young men boating at Jordanelle Reservoir on Tuesday were just your average guys, out for a good time. But they all know it was so much more than that.
This particular group was made up of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They all carry some mark that notes their willing service in the U.S. military on their bodies and on their hearts and souls.
The Wounded Warrior Project brought nearly two dozen veterans to Park City this week as a Project Odyssey event, where they spent several days at the National Ability Center. They spent the days hiking, horseback riding, boating and water skiing. And at night, they gathered around a campfire, in a "circle of trust," sharing the kind of ghost stories that only they would understand.
Juan Arredondo, San Antonio, is working with Wounded Warrior Project now, but there was a day when he was the one lying in a hospital bed after being injured in Iraq. He lost his left hand to the blast of an improvised explosive and had severe flesh wounds on both legs.
While he was in the hospital, he received a backpack full of clothing, toiletries and other items that brought a bit of comfort at what was perhaps the lowest point of his life.
"It made me feel more at ease," Arredondo said.
Since then, Arredondo has gone on to mentor his fellow soldiers.
John Roberts, one of the founders of Wounded Warrior Project, is himself a veteran who survived a helicopter crash in Somalia in 1992.
He said the organization's mission is best signified by its logo one warrior, carrying an injured warrior over his shoulder. Veterans have mentors who help them through the healing process, with hopes that they will in turn reach out to another veteran in need, just as Arredondo did.
Wounded Warrior Project is a nonprofit organization based in Jacksonville, Fla. Roberts said that soldiers injured in combat are flown to hospitals with nothing but what they had on them, if that.
However, as the word spread and donations kept pouring in, Wounded Warrior Project has grown to include programs like Project Odyssey and Warriors to Work, a program to help veterans seek employment outside of the military. And the organization has also been able to obtain funding for a disability insurance program to help families cover expenses while their loved one is hospitalized.
"It is the American public that makes this happen," Roberts said.This week's event is the second time Project Odyssey has been to Park City. The National Ability Center's basic belief is that recreation is as important to people who have disabilities as it is for anyone else. Outreach manager Ryan Jensen said the NAC supports a wide variety of veterans' organizations.