By David Cordero for VALOR Forge
Jarvie Curtis was scrolling through his social media feed when a photo caught his eye. A fellow military veteran, a friend from North Carolina, had documented his experience on a “Silkies Hike” with a group called Irreverent Warriors (IW). For Curtis, it stirred nostalgia from his days in the Marine Corps and created longing for a sense of togetherness.
After some research he found that there weren’t any hikes near the Wasatch Front — Las Vegas and Denver were the closest. Curtis sent a note through the “Contact Us” portion of the IW website, asking what it would take to get a hike set up in the Salt Lake Valley.
He wasn’t prepared for the answer. Why don’t you set one up?
“In order to get a hike in Utah, someone would need to step up and be the hike coordinator. Without ever attending a hike, much less planning one, I volunteered,” recalled Curtis, who served three combat tours in Iraq and now is the IW National Coordinator for the southwest region. “The organization has a great set of event planning documents that guided me through the process. I coordinated the first hike in our state in 2021.”
The organization’s Utah chapter is set for its next event May 14. Their Silkies Hike — so named for the service shorts they are encouraged to wear — will begin at 8 a.m. at Big Willies Sports Bar & Grill (1717 S. Main Street, Salt Lake City) and is expected to go until 4:30 p.m. The overarching goal: to bring veterans together using humor and camaraderie to improve mental health and stop veteran suicide. Learn more at:
IW asks that only veterans, active duty and reservists participate in the hike. Age is no issue; among the more than 50,000 veterans who have participated, Curtis says there have been Korean War and Vietnam War veterans.
“Military service comes with many unsavory memories that we tend to bottle up. These suppressed emotions then find a way out, usually in a less than desirable way,” Curtis said. “Irreverent Warriors gives these men and women an opportunity to talk with like-minded people and deal with those emotions in a far more productive manner.”
Irreverent Warriors’ beginnings can be traced to Capt. Danny Maher, USMC (Ret.), who organized a group to memorialize his best friend who took his own life. At one point it was decided that each participant should carry a pack with 22 pounds in it to memorialize the 22 veterans – on average – who take their own life each day. One veteran suggested they hike in silkies.
Photos were taken and shared. Word spread quickly. Soon, large groups of military veterans were carrying 22 pounds for 22 kilometers in their silkies as the organization took shape.
Nationwide, occasionally these events took a less than desirable turn given the easy access to alcohol. IW has pivoted toward more productive healing methods. Sub-groups such as IW Recovery, IW Outdoors, Cooking and Camaraderie, IW Riders and IW Fitness provide opportunities for veterans with similar hobbies to share experiences and build the bonds they crave.
“I am drawn to Irreverent Warriors because it puts me with other veterans in an open and irreverent environment, which I think is what we need in order to best support one another,” said Brian Schiele, a participant in the 2021 hike who served in the Air Force and Army. “One thing that I miss the most about being in the military is the camaraderie — you won't find that level of camaraderie anywhere else. Being with other veterans is always a good time.”
Added Curtis, “There is an idea that some people in the world heal through helping, and I believe I am one of them. Being able to see my efforts on hike day: the hugs, the tears, the bonds and the pure unfiltered happiness is my payment.”
David Cordero has been a published, award-winning writer for more than 20 years and has written about military veterans for newspapers, magazines and digital publications. He has served as chair of the Veterans Coalition of Southern Utah, board member for Utah Honor Flight and publisher of the American Legion Post 90 Gazette. He has been the keynote speaker or served as master of ceremonies for many military appreciation events in Southern Utah.
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