Healing Through Adventure
Matt Havniear knows first hand how healing the outdoors can be. After being diagnosed with PTSD from his time in the Marine Corps, he found his healing journey was taking him off the beaten path and off-road. Once he realized how important Overlanding was to his well-being, he set off to create a non-profit that would bring this experience to other Veterans suffering from PTSD. Team Overland was born.
We asked Matt to tell us the story behind Team Overland, his personal experience with PTSD and how he uses the outdoors to help Veterans re-connect with their lives and loved ones.
Images by Team Overland Trail Guide and Photographer Kirk Sullivan
What inspired you to create Team Overland?
I was diagnosed with PTSD after a combat tour to Afghanistan as an Infantry Assaultman with the United States Marine Corps. I found overlanding and adventure to be therapeutic and used it as a catalyst for reintegrating and healing. Once I saw the difference it made in my life I wanted to share my new found passion with as many as I could.
What was the process on your journey to become a 501(c)(3)?
I started out by talking to other nonprofit leaders in the community to solicit advice. Then I consulted an attorney. I soon realized that this was going to be an expensive process to set up.
At this point I headed into my first back surgery to repair damage sustained in combat. While healing (literally on my back the day after back surgery with my laptop on my lap) I looked for more understanding and in my research I found a couple of really useful books written by Dr. Kitty Bickford.
I reached out to her to see if there was any other tools she had to help us. It turned out that she had her Doctorate Degree in nonprofit management and start ups. She was also retired Air Force and she was married to a retired Marine. When I told her my idea she offered to help us out with out paper work for FREE! I couldn’t believe it and graciously accepted her offer.
Within 24 hours she had dropped the PDF files in my email and all I had to do was sign them and mail them in with a check. I had heard that it would take a year to get approved. We received our 501 c(3) approval 7 days later.
How personal is this for you? What’s your background with PTSD?
This has been completely personal for me. I was diagnosed with PTSD after a combat tour to Afghanistan. I also came home with Post Concussion Syndrome and Traumatic Brain Injury. So I know first hand how our model can help as a tool for stress relief, while building community support and giving purpose back in the lives where there is none.
I also have had a lot friends die by suicide. I served with 2nd Battalion 7th Marines out of 29 Palms California and we found ourselves involved in heavy door-to-door style firefights nearly daily in the Helman Province. When we returned home from our deployment we started losing Marines to suicide within a few weeks. We have maintained a steady number of suicides over the years and it has unfortunately got to the point that we are no longer sure exactly what the number is. We pretty much all think it is about 30 suicides from our battalion.
That rate seems staggering because it is. It is the highest of any unit… ever. Even as I type this I think about our last suicide just 2 weeks ago. This is my ultimate motivator. It is frustrating because I know I have this concept that could help not just heal lives but also prevent suicide in the lives of so many but I am limited by lack of resources, lack of funding.
I get emails from Veterans in every corner of this country nearly weekly asking if I can help them, if I could take them on an adventure, and it kills me to have to tell them no. I wish there was a way that I could share this method of eco-therapy and healing with everyone.
How did you get the word out about your mission and message? Where did you start?
I sent out about 500 emails to every organization I could think of that would be interested in supporting us. We got some emails back from some of our first sponsors! The only phone call I received was from Bobby Culpepper, the owner of CVT Tents in Bend, OR. He came on board as our biggest supporter and set us up with a couple Roof Top Tents to get started.
From there we tried a crowd funder but it didn’t do very well. We had not raised enough money to operate but we were determined to get our name out there. So we took what little money we had with a box of Team Overland shirts fronted to us by Moxley Media, a local t shirt screening company, and headed to the Overland Expo West. We had exhausted all of the organization’s money just getting to the expo and literally had to sell every shirt we had just to get home. Which we did. We pretended to know what we were doing and we made some great friends. Once we got back to Oregon we guided our first adventure.
What’s the breakdown for Team Overland rigs?
Matt – CEO and Founder – 2016 Toyota 4Runner TRD PRO
Jared Olivera – Founding member and Trail Guide – 2005 Toyota 4Runner SR5
Josh Downing – Trail Guide with most Overland Experience – 2012 Toyota FJ Land Cruiser
Jason Valentino – Trail Guide and Safety Officer 2010 Jeep Rubicon Unlimited Wrangler
Brian White – Trail Guide and Team MacGyver – 1996 Toyota FZJ80 Land Cruiser
Bobby Raetz – Trail Guide and Team Mechanic – 2005 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab Short Bed
Kirk Sullivan – Trail Guide and Team Photographer – 2016 Toyota 4Runner Trail Edition
What was your first expedition like? Where did you go, and how many were with you?
Our first expedition was a day trip to Dutchmen’s Peak Fire Lookout on top of the Siskiyou Mountains. The look out sits on the summit of Dutchmen’s Mountain at about 7000 feet elevation. We had 2 guests with us. One being a double amputee named Jed Morgan.
We helped Jed to the top of the mountain and from the lookout we could see the Cascade mountain range in 100 mile radius. Jed spoke about the trip and said “As a double amputee it is extremely difficult to go camping and enjoy many outdoor activities I once did with ease. With Team Overland I am able to do those things again and see places I never could otherwise. They are a phenomenal organization dedicated to helping veterans find healing in nature and being around other veterans who can understand what they are going through.”
We left the lookout and made our way down to a meadow where we found some level ground and I made my favorite camping lunch, grilled carne asada tacos with white onion, cilantro, hot sauce, squeeze of lime rolled up in a warm corn tortilla. After lunch we packed up and headed about another 40 miles off road until the trail lead us back to Ashland, Oregon.
What is the strategy for the expeditions? What type of trails do you explore?
Our goal is to be able to provide 12 overnight trips per year. This year we have been able to do 4. We are all volunteers in Team Overland, from the top down, no one takes a salary. So we work full time jobs to be able to do this so we are limited by time and funding. We supplement our limited operational capabilities with day trips. And we are able to do day trips nearly monthly.
For a day trip we usually try to find a really remarkable place to visit. We have visited Fire Lookouts on summits, winter warming shelters and sledding hills in the snow, and shady river banks in the summer. Our day trips are usually destination oriented.
The real value is the time spent on overnight trips. For the overnight trips we try and find a challenging trail system that offers varying terrain and sights along the way. After traveling the route the first day, we choose a halfway point to make camp for the night. We cater dinner and have a fire when we are permitted to. We have a gas burning fire pit for summer months when fire danger is high. Most guests are pretty well tired out and we head to bed. The next day we cater breakfast and break camp. We finish our route and head back to town.
One thing about our tips is that they are absolutely free to guests. We do not charge anyone to join us. We want to offer this service in a way that anyone can enjoy and people are more likely to want to participate.
What was your most satisfying moment (so far) on this adventure?
I would say it has been the bringing together of our community. We recently hosted an Off-Road Truck show to benefit local food pantries. We organized this event as a way to engage our volunteers as well as support the community that has supported us. We ended up having over 70 trucks enter the show and saw 400 spectators throughout the day come and go. It was humbling to see the people that Team Overland was able to bring together. We filled a M416 Jeep trailer until it was overflowing with non perishable goods. In the end we raised over 1,000 pounds of food and donated it to the food pantries.
After the show I treated the Team Leaders and their families to a Dinner. There were 13 of us sitting around the table, all of us a little sunburned, all of us a little tired, but the table was filled with stories (exaggerations), smiling and laughing. It was one of my favorite moments as the leader of Team Overland. 13 people sat around that table and just a year before that they would have been strangers. I realized that we are building community. We are supporting families. We are bringing people together both veterans and those that didn’t serve. We are reintegrating and we are strengthening bonds between people. Team Overland doesn’t just take people on expeditions, we bring people together.
What’s on the horizon for Team Overland in 2017?
We have our last overnight trip of 2016 scheduled for the weekend after Veteran’s Day, November 12&13. We already have almost 30 people signed up for this trip up by Crater Lake Oregon making it our biggest trip to date.
After this we will be doing a day trip to the snow in December where we are also going to be cutting down Christmas Trees and donating them to families in need. In Oregon you can just go get your own tree. We will break for Christmas and be on a break through February. January is Tax and grant writing time so a lot of the work will be done behind the scenes at the first of the year. We will be planning out dates but we are most likely starting trips in March of 2017 with an overnighter. We are going to try to do an overnight trip every month of 2017 between March and November. We are also going to try to have Trail guides represent our organization at FJ Summit, Overland Expo West, NW Overland Rally and some others. We will release our next years calendar of events after a planning session with the team in February.
How does someone become involved with Team Overland?
Visit our website and register for any event while it is open. You can also subscribe to our newsletters to hear about trips first hand and we also maintain active social media pages on Instagram and Facebook. www.teamoverland.org
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