SMECO newsletter

volume 67 - issue 11 - November 2017

Local veteran chosen for No Barriers expedition

In 2017, CoBank partnered with No Barriers USA to send 50 veterans suffering physical and psychological damage to one of four, five-day expeditions in the Red Feather Lakes region of Colorado. The veterans were chosen from rural communities throughout the country.

“Every American owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the men and women who serve in the armed forces and protect our country,” said Bob Engel, CEO of CoBank. “Those who are wounded or injured in the course of duty are even more deserving of our thanks. At CoBank, we want to do our part to honor veterans and repay them for their service to the nation.”

CoBank asked each of its business associates to nominate one veteran from their community to participate. SMECO nominated local hero Ryan Daniels. After successfully completing the screening process, Daniels was selected as one of the 50 men and women who would participate in an all-expense paid trip No Barriers expedition.

Daniels joined the United States Marine Corps in January 2008 and primarily served as a combat engineer. He was deployed both to Iraq (2009) and Afghanistan (2010–2011) before being honorably discharged from service in January 2016 as a Staff Sergeant.

“I love the Marine Corps and everything it stands for,” Daniels said. But his time in service left some scars.

On May 13, 2011, two weeks before he was scheduled to return home, Daniels and his fire team were hit by a an improvised explosive device (IED) initiating a complex ambush. This was the fourth time in seven months that Daniels and members of his squad were hit by an IED. These violent encounters left Daniels with numerous traumatic injuries. The physical pain, inability to sleep, and psychological scars from the attacks have had a deep and lasting impact on Daniels. As a result, he struggles with night terrors, sleepwalking and other issues related to his Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Staff Sergeant Ryan Daniels in front of a Humvee in Iraq in 2009.

Daniels returned home to his family, where he struggled with his issues and attempted to shield those he loves from the trauma he experienced and with which he continued to struggle.

In March 2016, Daniels took part in Melwood’s Operation: Tohidu. SMECO made a sizeable contribution in 2016 through employee fundraising efforts to make it possible for more veterans to attend this program. The program’s structure and the opportunity to talk openly with others who shared similar experiences opened the door to his healing.

“Operation: Tohidu helped me bridge the gap with my family,” Daniels said. “I learned how to talk to my family in a way that wouldn’t worry them.” So when Daniels was selected to attend the No Barriers expedition in August, he knew the experience would be invaluable. During the five days of transformative educational experiences, the veterans were presented with opportunities to challenge themselves physically and emotionally.

“You’re inserted into something that helps you find yourself,” Daniels said.

No Barriers USA uses curriculum-based experiences and challenging environments to help veterans with disabilities transform their lives. The non-profit also creates a safe space for veterans to reflect on their past, recognize where they are in the present, and look with positivity toward the future.

“No Barriers has been working with veterans with disabilities for years,” said Erik Weihenmayer, co-founder of No Barriers, an internationally renowned mountain climber and the only blind person in history to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. “We’ve seen the transformation that takes place when veterans are able to overcome the mental and physical challenges involved in one of our expeditions, and then apply the skills they’ve learned to the challenges faced in their day-to-day lives. We’re grateful to CoBank for their partnership and the opportunity to serve even more of our nation’s veterans with disabilities.”

SMECO is proud to have made a small contribution to the continued healing and recognition of our local hero Ryan Daniels.

Ryan Daniels with other attendees at the No Barriers expedition.

Daniels is transforming the opportunities he has been afforded through Operation: Tohidu and the No Barriers expedition. He currently volunteers with Operation: Tohidu and is seeking his master’s degree in Management and Leadership at Webster University.