Figure 1: U.S. and U.K. Service members participating in the grueling Cateran Yomp, Perth Scotland.
December 22, 2010, July 12, 2011, March 29th, 2012. Ambiguous dates too many, but for some, these are days that have forever altered lives. There are a vast number of dates that have permanently transformed our service members.
many of our service men and women who have fought bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan, bare the scares of these conflicts, the types of injuries sustained and the effects they have had on the service members, some clear and noticeable, while other wounds are inconspicuous and subtle, are long-lasting. The damage has not only changed their lives, these injuries have significantly impacted families and communities.
Many injured service members leave active duty with a numbness, a sense of defeat, a promising career cut short on an ill-fated day thousands of miles from home. These men and women have a challenging time acclimating to civilian life, with the additional complications of what could seem like never-ending medical treatment. In some circumstances depression sets in, anger, a feeling of abandonment and a longing for the camaraderie that was abruptly cut short.
While a permanent overarching ‘remedy” may never be able to accommodate each individuals particular medical requirements, one noteworthy organization is offering a unique opportunity for our service men and women to reconnect, challenge one’s self and experience a fragment of the world that otherwise they would not encounter.
The Allied Forces Foundation (AFF), is a British-American foundation that was established to recognize and further the uniquely close connection between the United States and the United Kingdom. The AFF works to raise awareness and funding for allied wounded and their families affected by the conflicts of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Each year the AFF selects a group of roughly seventy service members of all ranks, both active and retired, for a seven day trip to Scotland hosted by our British allies. Though their experiences vary, all are equal, side by side.
This year’s excursion included a visit to some of Scotland’s most treasured landmarks; Edinburgh Castle, the Black Watch Museum, the Wallace Monument, but the culminating event was the participation in the Cateran Yomp. A yomp is Royal Marine slang describing a long-distance march carrying full gear.
The Yomp takes place each year in the foothills of the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland, where individuals participate in the bronze medal stage, 22 grueling Scottish miles, or participants can continue on through to the silver medal stage at 36 miles.
If up to the test, competitors can push on in teams of 3-6 people clashing through to 54 miles in some of the most punishing but awe inspiring terrain imaginable, all within 24 hours. This year was the first year in the history of the Cateran Yomp that a number of single leg amputees made it all the way through to gold and all of them were from the AFF team! The AFF also acknowledged our comrades from other nations as well, partners within this alliance who have battled and sacrificed courageously throughout these conflicts. Countries like Denmark, and the Republic of Georgia all experiencing the trials of the Yomp.
As our service men and women celebrated their personal goals and milestones, British, American, Danes and Georgians, side by side, mutually experienced as we have before, a life changing event.
The concluding occasion was a formal military dinner provided by our British hosts with the following day’s event, an entertaining and lighthearted Highland games at Loch Tay in the central highlands of Scotland.
The final day is bittersweet as we prepare for our flight back to the states. Addresses and numbers are exchanged with the promise of keeping in touch, some members of the group will, but most go back home and with the passing of time, are consumed with life, its adversities and its triumphs. Though not an overarching “remedy”, the trip to Scotland provoked something different in each of us, eliciting a determination, resolve, brotherhood and the possibility to come to terms with the injuries sustained in combat. This is not the last venture, as there are many opportunities to volunteer and spread the word regarding the positive impact the AFF is making on our veterans. The team that participated in the Scotland trip is encouraged to reconvene 24-30 October 2018, when the AFF hosts our British Allies as they tour Washington D.C. and participate in the U.S. Marine Corps Marathon.
The AFF goes to great lengths to ensure these events are executed flawlessly. Every year, the AFF continues to enhance its many programs in support of our veterans and allies abroad. With your help this event can be even more successful. I encourage you to contact the Allied Forces Foundation, recommend someone you may know who would benefit from such a profound experience, make a donation that will enable a service member to participate in this opportunity to reconnect, re-engage in a challenging but rewarding event, side by side.