Written by Libby Reilly
This article has been adapted from the CSU Alumni Magazine Fall/Winter 2016 edition. You can read the article in its entirety here.
Jason Norris and Zachary Connerty, both CSU alumni, met in 2001 while stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Zach was shift supervisor for a military police unit and Jason was newly assigned on base. Jason was to shadow Zach in order to learn the ropes on Fort Jackson but instead, he asked that he be provided a patrol car so he could figure things out on his own and “stay out of the way.”
The two have been best friends ever since.
More than two decades, six continents, and a dozen duty stations between them, they will soon retire; however, they will always be soldiers bonded by experience and friendship.
“Jason and I have always had a love for the outdoors and always talked about the possibility of doing business together one day. As the discussion and questions kept pointing to the idea of it happening now, we both looked at each other and finally just said, ‘why not us?’ We knew what that outreach program did for us and we now have the opportunity to provide that continued service to other veterans and wounded warriors,” said Zach.
The ideas were born and would soon evolve into the nonprofit organization, BUC-OPS (Bonded Under Combat Outreach Programs).
The premise of the program is relatively simple: gather a group of service members to attend an outdoor activity (hunting, fishing, archery, camping, etc.), and watch change and healing unfold naturally through a common bond and the therapy of the great outdoors.
“For us, we already know what kind of person it takes to handle the situations we’ve been in, so it goes without saying that we understand each other. Talking is therapy in itself but throwing in outdoor activities adds a sense of comfort that you can go out there and be yourself, escape the island so many of us put ourselves on,” says Jason.
Each event will include volunteers, possibly avid outdoorsmen and women, from fields such as Veteran Affairs, Veterans and Family Welfare, and medical, financial and physical services. This will create an enduring mentoring relationship to connect the veteran with an individual they know and are comfortable talking to about different programs and issues. Then, when the hunting or fishing trip is over, that veteran has a name and a phone number to call when they have a need. The goal with this is to create a “continuous branch of connection” long after the trip is complete.
The motto of BUC-OPS is “Rewind in the Blind.” In hunting, a blind is a structure in which hunters conceal themselves and hide from animals.
“When you’re sitting in the blind with somebody, it’s a lot easier to talk about what’s on your mind, relive something you’ve been through, or just hash something out that you wouldn’t normally say out loud. Veteran to veteran or therapist to veteran, it’s a lot easier to talk about things outdoors than it is within four walls,” says Zach.
For Jason and Zach, their top priority is to provide resources to their military family in a way that has not always been available, to make them stronger and more equipped to then “pass the buc.” Once participants have gone on a trip with BUC-OPS, Jason and Zach hope they will then “close the circle.”
“We give veterans the tools to make themselves better but then we want to give them the opportunity to give back and serve others. It’s not just about taking what is available to you; it’s about finding ways to give back once you know what that feels like. Service and sacrifice, it’s what the military is all about; it only makes sense that it is the mission we continue.”
To learn more about BUC-OPS, register as a veteran, or find out how you can support their mission, visit bucops.org or find them on Facebook.