On the top of Mt. Rainier, from left, are veterans Chad Butrick, Nick Watson and Stacy Bare, and Luis Benitez. Now director of Mission Outdoors, Bare, a Brookings native, has helped other veterans find healing and wellness in outdoor wilderness experiences. Photo by Chris Kassar photo
/ Stacy Bare ice climbing in Ouray, Colo. Photo by Lourdes Izzy
/ A group of children in Iraq ham it up with Stacy Bare for the camera. Photo courtesy of Stacy Bare
• Wilderness helps veterans regain balance
Been there, done that.
Brookings native and Army veteran Capt. Stacy Bare found war up close and personal. It left its mark on him.
But in finding and piecing himself back together, he found in the wilderness a way to also help his fellow veterans and their families cope with the after-effects of war.
For the son of educators Tom and Jeanette Bare, who still live in Brookings, the journey was a long one.
Coming back from Iraq in 2007, following a year-long tour of duty during which he worked closely with Iraqi armed forces, Bare was physically in one piece. Emotionally, not so much; in time he would find that he missed the war and his clearly understood role in it. And he found civilian life uninspiring as he tried to meld back into the American way of life.
Bare graduated from Brookings High School in 1996. From there he attended the University of Mississippi, graduating in 2000 with a bachelor's degree and a commission as an Army second lieutenant in the Military Intelligence Corps.
Following completion of the Officer Basic Course, he served a tour in Germany, punctuated in 2003 by a deployment to Sarajevo, Bosnia, as chief of a counterterroism team. He left the Army in 2004 – for the first time – and went to work for a British company doing land-mine clearance in Georgia, a former Soviet state.
Bare was recalled to the Army near the end of 2005. Following retraining, in early 2006 he was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, where he spent the remainder of the year and first half of 2007. He came home and was released from the Army – for the second time.
A tough transition
Bare was ready for the transfer back to civilian life. Sort of.
He said, "I knew I needed a break from the military before I really threw myself back at civilian life."
He had worked in Angola, on the southwest coast of Africa, and "had always wanted to surf."
He added, "I knew I wanted some time by myself, and I had the money from my deployment."
Think of it as a self-advised sabbatical, which would last three weeks. He was at peace in Africa. It locked a place in his mind that he would return to during his darkest times in years to come.
Bare got back on track with his life, attending the University of Pennsylvania and earning a master's degree in city planning and urban design, graduating in May 2009. But along the way, while he had gotten away from war, war got back to him.
At U of Penn, Bare began struggling with what he would come to recognize as post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD. He faced "some drug addiction issues, depression, and a lot of (his) problems really started surfacing."
Bare stressed that PTSD "is a really touchy subject, a difficult subject. Is it a disorder or is it just your body's reaction?" He added that "in the military you're trained to be tough; you're trained to fight through."
He's careful about referencing his issues as PTSD; Bare explained, "The VA has diagnosed me with PTSD; but the VA actually denied my claim that my PTSD was because of the military."
That puzzled him: "There's definitely some problems there," he said of his diagnosis/claim-denial experience.
Looking at his own PTSD experience, Bare said the first step was to recognize the existence of an issue. He admitted it took him a "really long time."
Bare said, "I was having really bad nightmares, from time to time, waking hallucinations – very vivid dreams while you're still awake."
He had a panic attack in the lobby at the VA building in Philadelphia; "It took me a solid 10 minutes before I could actually turn around and go out."
He didn't see himself as having a problem. He added, "You don't wake up one morning and tell yourself, 'Oh, I'm having post-traumatic stress.' I don't think most of us are that self-aware."
And listening to others can be difficult. Bare explained, "You don't want to hear that you're broken; you don't want to hear that you need healing. I certainly didn't."
Finally, Bare wondered if some of PTSD "might come from the fact that outside the combat zone the relative level of boredom is both welcome and unwelcome – at the same time."
He explained, "You're glad that you're out of the situation, but you don't know what to do with yourself. Life seems to have lost a certain sheen, a certain edge that it had before."
Getting vets outdoors
Following grad school in 2009, Bare readily found employment in Colorado for a company called Veterans Green Jobs. Its mission is "to engage, transition and connect military veterans with meaningful employment opportunities that serve our communities and environment."
Within a year, he was chief operations officer. Additionally, he had started rock climbing and hiking and was coming to grips "at a pretty low level" with what he can now look back on as his own mental health issues.
But, he added, "If I had talked to you in 2009, I wouldn't have told you I had mental health issues."
Meanwhile someone was reaching out to him "to help find a better organization that was helping get people outside." That led to his getting a grant from Force Factor when he "came up with a program to help veterans climb mountains."
In 2010, Bare teamed up with Nick Watson, a former Army veteran and Ranger, and Veterans Expeditions was born.
"That's kind of how it ended up," Bare said. As he was helping other veterans find healing and wellness in outdoor experiences in the wild, he himself was finding healing.
Then as Watson stayed on running Veterans Expeditions, Bare moved on to become national representative for Military Families and Veterans Initiatives on the Sierra Club Mission Outdoors team. He served for about 16 months.
Brookings a great example
On July 1, Bare was promoted to the director's post at Mission Outdoors. Now in charge of the Mission Outdoors program, he "helps to coordinate and support both the military families' and veterans' initiatives, advocating for increased access to the outdoors – for all of America, with a special emphasis on youth, disadvantaged communities and military families and veterans.
"Mission Outdoors also helps coordinate the efforts of 7,000 volunteer leaders, with 150,000 people outside a year."
Bare's hope is "by 2020 that we're getting over a million people a year outside and that we can help move state, local and national policies forward that increase peoples' opportunities outside."
He cited Brookings as "a great example of a city that's doing it really well. There's fantastic access to parks and public recreation. And that's what we want."
In a come-full-circle fashion as he spoke of the positive influence Brookings has had on his life, Bare paid tribute to retired Brookings Recreation Superintendent Marc Richards, for whom he worked "for three great years": "He was such a strong mentor for me growing up, when I first had a real job. Marc Richards was my first real boss and somebody who did so much for the town that I grew up in, to get people outside, to create opportunities for outdoor recreation. Hopefully I can do that as well as he did."
Simply and succinctly, Bare made a final reference to PTSD that has hit home to so many American veterans of our long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to their families: "Good people who come from good homes and good communities, war can change all of that.
"It's not the communities' fault; it's not your parents' fault. It's just the reality of what war does.
"War messes you up pretty bad."
Contact John Kubal at jkubal@-brookingsregister.com.