Women in the military are around men all the time. But sometimes what a woman experiences in the military isn’t the same as her fellow soldiers who are men.
As it turns out, that’s true for Rivers of Recovery trips as well.
Brenda Falk, retired U.S. Army, understands this phenomenon. Brenda’s first RoR trip in 2016 was female only.
“There’s something about the whole experience of being with women,” Brenda explains. “You feel safe in their company.”
Brenda believes common experience is part of it—both positive and negative. For example, “sexual assault is very common in the military,” she said. “As women, you don’t even have to say anything. You just get it.”
Women Vets are an Underserved Population
These women-only RoR trips were strongly supported by Jeff Butler, veterans program coordinator for the National Park Service’s Vets on the River program.
Jeff started Vets on the River by organizing kayaking trips for veterans in Wisconsin. He focused mainly on rural communities where veterans often had limited access to other resources.
He soon found women vets were another underserved population. “Women go home and they’re invisible,” Jeff said. “They slip back into society, back into families, back into school.”
The partnership between RoR and Vets on the River gave more Wisconsin veterans a chance to discover the magic of fly fishing.
It’s new to many of them. Like most participants, Brenda hadn’t fly fished before her RoR trip.
“I always wanted to, but it looked so hard,” she said. “But it looks a lot harder than it is.”
Women Experience Different Challenges
Although it sounds like a great idea at first, both Brenda and Jeff know that it’s more of a challenge to get women to go on these fly fishing trips.
“Especially if you have children,” Brenda said. “It’s okay for men to go hunting. But women have a hard time. We don’t get a chance to hang out with other veterans very often. Sometimes women are almost guilted into going on these trips.”
And many have concerns about it. “Sometimes I wonder if people get scared because it’s call Rivers of Recovery,” Brenda said. “I usually have to explain it. You don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to. We all get it. It’s not a big deal.”
But once they’re on the trip, things change. “Everyone opens up when they’re together,” Brenda said.
Brenda and Jeff are helping RoR organize other trips for women vets. The second women-only Rivers of Recovery trip in Wisconsin was held in the late summer of 2017. And they’re both working hard to spread the word—giving more veterans the chance to experience it themselves.
Interested in helping other combat vets discover the healing nature of fly fishing? Here’s some suggestions.