The CoBank No Barriers program helps disabled veterans overcome physical and emotional obstacles through curriculum-based wilderness expeditions. Last year, CoBank sponsored 50 veterans and one of those vets was MEC member Jesse Smith. We recently sat down with him to learn about his experience:

80-year-old Smith is a friendly gentleman from Three Rivers who served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War from 1955 to 1957. Like many who served, he came home with injuries that would impact him for the rest of his life, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

One area of particular impact involves social interactions. Smith admits that he feels most comfortable around other vets because they are the only ones who truly understand his experience and the effect it had on him. Additionally, he has a deep love for nature and has always wanted to see the mountains. So when he saw the opportunity to explore Colorado’s wilderness surrounded by people he knew would make him feel safe and supported, he jumped at the chance.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” These were Smith’s first words when asked about his experience. “This trip was fantastic and forever changed me. The crew was incredible and became part of me. I can’t thank them enough.”

He still feels the impact of the trip like it was yesterday, and his enthusiasm and excitement is contagious when he shares his memories. “I learned to trust myself and learned that, even at 79 (his age during the expedition), I can take on new challenges and succeed.”

While significantly older than the other participants in his group, he didn’t let his age deter him. He participated in all the activities that his health would allow, and he found the nightly group circles to be the most rewarding. “That’s when we all came together and really connected,” he recalls.

Because this program is designed specifically around the unique needs of veterans with disabilities, participants feel more comfortable and can invest in each day. The crew prioritizes each participant and their individual experience to make sure the trip provides a lasting value, as it certainly did for Smith.

Smith encourages other eligible veterans to apply for this opportunity. “Your only obstacle in life is your thinking, and we [vets with disabilities] all carry baggage. Don’t be afraid to try it.”

Are you a veteran interested in being nominated for the 2018 No Barriers program? If so, please go to countrylines.com/nobarriers by Feb. 28 and complete the form to express your interest. We will then follow-up with more detailed information.