Our services include camping, backpacking, hiking, and hunting, at no cost to the veteran or first responder. Because our goats can pack a large number of supplies, our project can facilitate the involvement of disabled individuals who would otherwise not be able to join. Our main goal is to provide therapeutic outdoor experiences for any veteran or first responder that would benefit from our project.
Our funding primarily comes from the sales of SMPG merchandise (t-shirts, decals, etc.) and small fundraiser events, including goat yoga and pack goat day hikes.
All of the work we do results from the love and respect we have for our veterans and first responders.
My early childhood was spent in and around the bay area of California. My two younger siblings (Kelley and Cory) and I were shuffled among living with our mother, our father, and the California foster system until our grandparents (Don and Carol Woods) were awarded permanent custody when I was ten. Pops was a retired Navy Hospital Corpsman from Alma, AR, and his military service was a significant positive influence on our lives. In 1993 we moved to Hatfield, AR, where I would grow up and fall in love with the Ouachita Mountains. On my 17th birthday, I joined the AR Army National Guard, and eventually deployed to Kuwait, followed by two tours to Iraq. During my first tour to Iraq, my unit (C Co, 1/153rd INF; TF 1/9, 1st CAV) saw frequent combat and substantial casualty rates. In 2004, we lost our best NCO (SFC Miranda, aka “The Beagle”) during an enemy ambush. Beagle had been my squad leader for much of my career and had been a major impact in my life. Sometime before he was killed, I had made him a promise to go back to college (I had flunked out of community college my freshman year) and to do my best to take advantage of “Uncle Sam’s” free tuition. When I returned home from Iraq, like most of my brothers, I really struggled to adjust to civilian life again. Looking back, it was obvious I was suffering from PTSD – but I did not want to admit to what we interpreted as weakness. For the first year, I really began to self-destruct and used alcohol to deal with my symptoms. Whether Beagle had known it or not, it was my attempt to make good on my promise to him that gave me my first “life-line” out of my downward spiral. I enrolled back into the local community college – and even though I had no damn idea what I was going to do, I had made up my mind that I was going to do my very best. Although it would still take some time before I would really learn to accept and deal with my PTSD, college really helped me focus on a goal and helped me stabilize a bit. Up until that point, my entire academic career (K-12, etc.) I had always been a terrible student, struggling just to pass. Now I was getting A’s in nearly all my classes!
During my initial stages of treating my symptoms on my own, college really helped to give me a reason to stop my self-destructive behavior. However, it wasn’t long before the new excitement of getting straight A’s would become routine and I would need something else beyond studying to help me get past the flashbacks and feelings of guilt or disappointment. Luckily for me, I had some friends and family who became very adept at picking up on my PTSD symptoms and triggers. I eventually learned that first of all, I had to accept and realize that PTSD is not a weakness, but rather a result of actions that my brothers and I did to keep each other alive – actions that many others are too afraid to do. Secondly, I began to understand the importance of filling my time with certain activities which helped me to fully stabilize and live with my PTSD. These three main activities included: 1) serving other veterans, 2) getting outdoors and 3) a little bit of animal (goat) therapy). In many ways, my life has come full circle and I believe there are many other men and women that have served who could use this recipe to help themselves get back on track! Thus, it is these three core items that the SMPG project is focused on.
A final experience that helped shape the goals of the SMPG project came from a story told by a new close friend of mine (Ti Augustine) around the time that we were conceptualizing SMPG. Ti, who is a law enforcement officer, told me his story about the day he was in a small-arms fire-fight (more of an ambush) with a civilian in our local area. Ti was seriously injured that day, receiving a slug to his leg that shattered his femur. He also told me about the physical, emotional, and psychological struggles of his recovery process from his experience, and the different ways he had dealt with them. His story really hit home with me. Although I have always known that our law enforcement officers are commonly in harm’s way, I had never truly understood the parallels between 1st responders and military veterans. So it is because of our dear friend Ti (who also is an SMPG advisory member) that our project also focuses on supporting 1st responders