Denise Loring was stuck in traffic on the way back from a job interview in Washington, D.C., when she realized the job she wanted was already right near home in Northern Virginia. Trouble was, it didn't pay anything.
An Army veteran and longtime competitive shooter, Loring had been asked to join the team at Camp Valor Outdoors, a Missouri-based organization that helps military veterans through guided shooting, fishing, hunting and other activities. She had retired from the military, but the search for employment in the city, including the region’s notoriously bad congestion on Interstate 66, was wearing on her.
"I just had an aha moment," she said in an interview on the podcast Borne the Battle. "I was like, you know what, I'm going to make it on my retirement." She joined Camp Valor Outdoors as its unpaid COO and now joins other veterans at competitive shooting events as part of the group's team.
The organization was started by retired Marine John Schwent, who wanted to do something to help ill, injured or wounded veterans. He hosts them on a 50-acre ranch in western Missouri that also has access to 1,000 acres of surrounding farmland. The group also runs shooting activities in Virginia with Loring and others.
Whether shooting targets or sitting around the campfire, warriors of all ages benefit from simply being together to share their—often quite similar—stories of military service. “A big differentiator about Camp Valor Outdoors is we take veterans from every generation,” noted Schwent. “We’ve had World War II, Korea and Vietnam guys come out.”
As the group’s website states, “Warriors are never alone on the battlefield and shouldn't be alone when they come back home.” The outdoor events help counter the isolation many veterans feel.
"Some of them don't have a lot of the camaraderie and [time with other] military veterans where they live," Loring said, "So when we get together at a shooting match, oh my gosh, it's like all-home week."
The shooting team competes in various matches, including one held by another nonprofit, Remembering the Brave, in which the trophies are created to memorialize fallen service members with input from their families.
Loring acknowledges in the podcast that, for many veterans, it can be difficult to take the first step in attending an event. She tells the story of one man in Texas whose friend essentially dragged him out to Missouri.
"This guy went from sitting in a dark bedroom. He's now a rancher," she said. "That's how far he's gotten."