It wasn’t one event in the outdoors that saved Andrew Collins’ life.
It was when the Iraq combat veteran realized every time he felt lost, or things darkened, or the noise grew louder in his head, he grabbed his backpack or fishing rod and headed outside.
“The only way I could find some sense of normal,” he said.
Call it what you will: outdoor therapy, wilderness healing or just plain recreation. But for Collins, the power of being outdoors, of working through problems with other veterans under sun and in fresh air, has kept him from taking his own life.
The airborne infantry veteran in Lander spent six years on active duty in the Army, with two deployments in Iraq. He lost six friends in the war, and his squad leader since he came back home. In 2012, he tried to kill himself. Doctors had him on 17 pills a day, and in 2014 decided he needed a change.
“I began to find other ways to deal with the pain. Being outdoors helped me mentally. I found value in the outdoors and that is drawing back to as a kid,” said Collins, who grew up in Idaho. “It allows a sense of peace, a sense of calm.”
Collins isn’t alone in his struggles. Each year, about 7,300 veterans commit suicide in the United States. Reasons are varied, complex and nuanced, but Collins and C. Michael Fairman know what can help: communication, community awareness and camaraderie based in and around the outdoors.
And Saturday, Collins will join Fairman and a handful of other veterans and volunteers to climb Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s highest summit, as part of a program called Summit for Soldiers.
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