An Interview with Team Overland coordinator, Bobby Raetz
Interview by Jeremy Lux, article written by Eric Z. Gasa
For many veterans the real battle starts long after the guns have fallen silent. From PTSD to physical disabilities, U.S. veterans often face a score of new challenges the moment they step off that plane and transition back into civilian life in the States. For these servicemen and women, these hardships can often make them feel alone and trapped despite being surrounded by loved ones and family.
That’s where the proud volunteers of Team Overland step in. A team of dedicated vets and civvies, this nonprofit org is centered on the idea of nature as a means to heal old wounds. From rafting, camping, and hiking, volunteers take veterans on extensive treks and trips all across the country at no charge. It’s a noble way to give back to those who have sacrificed.
One especially proud member is Bobby Raetz, a former Marine turned advocate, who chatted with Jeremy Lux on the Life In Motion podcast to discuss his journey from Okinawa and Thailand, to the beautiful Oregon countryside among his military family.
For Raetz, being outside for a living is a great fit.
“I grew up in Wyoming and Colorado, so I've been around the outdoors and camping pretty much all my life. For hobbies, I went camping, played out in the hills, and worked the ranch since I was 13,” he says.
At the age of 18 he enlisted in Marine Corps where he would spend the next nine years bouncing back and forth between Japan, Thailand, and North Carolina. Luckily, he was never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and was discharged in 2008. After the Corps, he worked on getting his education at the Universal Technical Institute of Chicago, then promptly got a job working at Toyota for the next decade.
But Raetz’s time in Japan and Thailand was especially eye-opening for him. In Japan he got to see the impressive Mount Fuji, while he calls his stint in Thailand “probably the best thing that has ever happened” to him.
The sights Raetz saw in Thailand was especially humbling.
“I get over there. There's people living in shacks without any windows, doors, running water, electricity. Nothing. Before then, the only time I saw things like that was on TV shows and here I am seeing that in real life…It gave me a different perspective on what we take for granted here in the U.S.”
Returning from his time in the Corps, Raetz noticed the stark challenges of adjusting to civilian life. After living in a highly regimented and organized world in the military, Reatz missed the camaraderie and brotherhood of his fellow Marines.
“When you're in the military, you look at each other like brothers and sisters because your life depends on it. And when I got out of the military, it was certainly a culture shock for me. I still had a mindset of we’re going to do things this way because that's how I was trained,” he explains.
It was around 2015 that Raetz got involved with Team Overland after servicing a vehicle owned by one of their members. The two both had military experience in common, one thing turned into another, and before Raetz knew it he was guiding vets on wilderness adventures.
A nonprofit dedicated to reintegrating vets into civilian life, Team Overland offers rafting, off-roading, hiking, and a score of other outdoor activities completely free. No matter where you are, Team Overland will provide room and board for their vets. Raetz recalls a time where his org paid to fly a young servicewoman from Portland, Maine all the way to the east coast for an expedition. When it comes to dedication, Team Overland is willing to go the extra mile for its people.
But no matter how grizzled the warrior, nature seems to help the healing process.
Raetz brings up one vet named Jen Morgan. He had lost both his legs and part of his right hand from an IED and was not fond of sharing his experience. But little by little, Raetz could see Morgan unwind.
“We have a sick sense of humor sometimes. I drive a Toyota Tacoma and I'm looking at him trying to figure out how to get him in my truck. I ask if he needs any help and he's like, ‘Worst case. I'll throw my legs in the back seat.’ And I'm like, ‘Okay, this is going to be a great trip.’”
By that night, Raetz says Morgan was “having the best day of his life, with just the biggest smile on his face.”
But despite the good times and smiles, Raetz is dead serious when it comes to mental health and his dedication to these folks. He is eager to remind vets that they are not alone in this battle and empathizes with them deeply.
“Depression is certainly a very bad thing with vets because we will all hit a stage in our lives where we feel alone even though we’re surrounded by people,” he admits.
Raetz describes trauma and PTSD as chaos. Sometimes it controls us, but its ultimately up to us to make sense of it and learn how to cope.
“Find a path and stick to it,” he says.
Whether it be through rafting, hiking, or maybe just swapping stories with old comrades, Raetz encourages everybody to get some kind of activity or support system. And as for any veterans out there who may be struggling, Raetz offers a hearty welcome to the state of Oregon where Team Overland is ready to help.
“Don't get depressed, don’t think about the bad things,” he says, “Just get out there and just live life. Just live your life because everybody's worth it.”
For more info on Team Overland, check out their website on teamoverland.org to see how you can help, get involved, or get started on a trip. For the full scoop on Bobby Raetz as well as some more inspiring stories from veterans, check out the full interview with Jeremy Lux on Life in Motion available on Apple Podcast and Spotify.