By John Roberts
National Service Director, Wounded Warrior Project
When I got out of the Marine Corps in the 1990s, I struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Back then, the only treatment option was through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It was either talk therapy or medication, and I wasn’t a big fan of either one. There wasn’t anything out there offering a peer-to-peer connection. When I got far enough in my recovery to help the young warriors behind me, I knew I wanted them to have more options for treatment.
So, in 2007, I worked with Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) leadership to create a special PTSD-focused program. That was when Project Odyssey® was born. The name is derived from Homer’s epic poem about overcoming adversity and finding your way home. These themes mirror a veteran’s own odyssey to overcome the struggles associated with combat and transition to his or her new normal at home with family and friends.
It wasn’t until midway through the first Project Odyssey in 2007 that I realized – wow – this works. My entire focus went to recreating the magic from that first workshop. And we did.
For the past decade, WWP staff have been hosting Project Odyssey all over the country, providing peer-to-peer connections and mental health support to as many warriors as possible. Each Project Odyssey is a multi-day, adventure-based mental health workshop. These teach warriors new tools to help on their journeys to recovery from combat stress, PTSD, and other invisible wounds.
Though Project Odyssey is meant to help warriors find resiliency in their transitions from military to civilian life, it’s also designed to be fun. A typical Project Odyssey day starts with team-building exercises, followed by outdoor activities like whitewater rafting or climbing through a high-ropes course.
These outdoor activities introduce coping strategies for issues warriors encounter in their everyday lives – such as anxiety. This recovery model allows warriors to be vulnerable to the unknown and to identify and work through stressors together. During regular group discussions, warriors break down their thought processes when confronted with stressors or triggers and then share what coping mechanism worked for them to complete the activity.
Activities vary, as do locations. If you’re on a Project Odyssey in Florida, you may partake in beach activities like kayaking or surfing.
“Project Odyssey is special, because it presents challenges to you — things that you may never have experienced before,” says wounded warrior Chris Gordon. “You get to challenge yourself, conquer obstacles, and meet new veterans who could become lifelong friends.”
If you’re on a Project Odyssey in Utah or Colorado, you may end up skiing or hiking. Regardless, you’ll have a chance to try new things while comfortably surrounded by your fellow warriors.
The activities at a Project Odyssey are designed to help warriors increase their self-confidence and teach them to think before reacting in difficult situations. By teaching warriors coping and resiliency skills adapted to their everyday lives, they increase their psychological well-being, which helps them face challenges presented at home, in relationships, in the workplace, and in their communities.
Project Odyssey empowers wounded warriors like Chris to see that after military service, there is a new mission – recovery.
To be their most successful selves post-injury. Warriors realize they can still accomplish great feats and take on challenges regardless of any physical or mental injuries. To be successful, they must have a balanced support structure.
Peer support is so essential to the recovery process that WWP created a specific program to support the effort. Peer support is found in every WWP program and service offered, but the goal of the Peer Support program is for every warrior being mentored to eventually mentor another warrior, thus embodying the WWP logo of one warrior carrying another. By becoming a peer mentor, warriors who once were being carried have the opportunity to become the warrior who carries others. The power of peer support is most evident in Project Odyssey, where one of the main emphases centers on team building.
Project Odyssey is broken into all-female, all-male, and couples workshops to ensure environments are comfortable and promote healing.
For female warriors like Angie Peacock, this support structure was her first opportunity to build connections with other female veterans who have been through similar experiences. When she learned she was not alone in her injuries, she was able to start healing wounds she had been working on for a decade.
Couples workshops allow warriors and their spouses to strengthen their relationships.
Wounded warrior David Camacho and his wife were able to understand each other on a deeper level after meeting other couples and sharing ideas, opinions, and experiences. As a group, couples learned the emotional and life skills to manage the frustration, depression, and stress that comes from dealing with life after injury.
“The couples Project Odyssey helped my wife and me understand each other,” says wounded warrior David Camacho. “We met other couples and shared ideas, opinions, and experiences. We got the emotional and life skills to manage the frustration, depression, and stress that comes from dealing with everything.”
Success at Project Odyssey varies from warrior to warrior. Isolation can negatively impact a positive recovery outcome. For some warriors, just walking through the door is the biggest win. For others, progress may come from talking to someone new or conquering a high ropes course. Warriors choose what challenges they’re willing to undertake, so they can get more comfortable doing a bit more every day, expanding their tolerance for uncomfortable situations or feelings. But by the end of the workshop, warriors are well outside their comfort zones and redefining their boundaries.
The program ends with establishing goals that are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timebound. These are set with the intention of providing warriors something to work toward after returning home from Project Odyssey. WWP teammates who worked with warriors on Project Odyssey commit to a 90-day follow-up program to help warriors achieve their goals, Connecting them with additional resources as needed. With PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI) being the two most prevailing injuries from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, the need for increased resources for PTSD treatment is evident.
We need to raise awareness and educate the public. PTSD is a normal reaction to a very bad situation, and no one should be ashamed of suffering and seeking help. Combat veterans need to know that PTSD does not have to be a lifelong sentence. It can be treated and managed.
Life can be better. Goal-setting and accountability – along with connecting warriors with a myriad of additional WWP programs – are what separate Project Odyssey from other adventure-based mental health programs. It’s the magic that makes it special, and the impact of Project Odyssey speaks for itself.
“It was the first time I got to build a connection with female veterans who had been through similar experiences,” says wounded warrior Angie Peacock. “In four short days, Project Odyssey helped me heal some wounds I’d been working on for a decade.”
About Wounded Warrior Project
We Connect, Serve, and Empower
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers – helping them achieve their highest ambition. WWP is a national, nonpartisan organization accredited with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), top rated by Charity Navigator, and holding a GuideStar Platinum rating. To get involved and learn how WWP connects, serves, and empowers, visit
http://newsroom.woundedwarriorproject.org/about-us. (Photos courtesy WWP)
Are you struggling with PTSD, TBI, or other mental health issues?
WWP can help you at every stage of your mental health recovery:
• Inpatient Treatment – Immediate treatment for warriors with urgent needs
• Outpatient Treatment – Ongoing therapy to cope with invisible wounds
• Warrior Care Network® – Intensive outpatient treatment providing tools to overcome mental health challenges in partnership with four academic medical centers
• WWP Talk – Weekly phone conversations with a warrior who understands
• Project Odyssey – Three- to five-day mental health workshops
June is PTSD Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is interested in support for PTSD or other mental health issues, please contact the WWP Resource Center at email@example.com or