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'Canyon heroes' heals through Arizona's beauty

Eighteen veterans from across the country are on a week long Grand Canyon rafting trip aimed to heal wounds of combat.
'Canyon Heroes' is providing 18 veterans with a therapeutic trip to the Grand Canyon, July 30, 2015.

There's a certain kind of peace and serenity only Mother Nature can provide, and the jagged walls of the colossal Grand Canyon are proof.

Eighteen veterans from all across the country are on a journey seeking out peace and serenity and are using the Colorado River as a guide. It's all part of the 'Canyon Heroes', a non-profit based in Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania focused on helping address the emotional and psychological wounds of combat.

"It's amazing to see all these veterans from the east coast to latch on to the beauty, the sunsets, everything," said Joseph Perez, an Army and Navy veteran from Nevada who served in Iraq in 2003. "It made my heart feel good. I'm really looking forward to going down the canyon with them. It's going to be a five-day adventure."

They're beginning their journey at Lees Ferry, near Page, and rafting down the Colorado River and will camp overnight. The focus of the trip isn't therapy, but rather meaningful discussions about war's place in the human story and how diverse cultures from around the globe.

"What we bring is a knowledge of traditional warrior cultures from around the world. The Lakota Sioux ... the Celts and the Samurai," said Dr. Roger Brooke, a veteran and professor of psychology and director of military psychological services at Duquesne University. "The psychological wounds of war are a universal and understanding these wounds in this way gives dignity and direction."

Lindsay Gargotto is an Air Force veteran from Arkansas who founded 'Athena Sisters', a non-profit for female veterans aimed at providing physical and mental healthcare, said she is focusing on bettering herself with this trip.

"I do a lot of healing and work with a lot of women, so this was an opportunity for me to just come out and deal with my own stuff," she said.

And part of the healing process includes the community, and learning how veterans and civilians can communicate to create meaningful and healing dialogue.

"Activities like this really work well because when we bring community and veterans together in this very organic place, (we) just let things be," Gargotto said.

These trips are funded through donations and the veterans only pay a trip insurance. The application review process will begin in August for next year's trip where the hope is the groups will continue to get bigger and bigger.

"It will be nice to be able to come back home and have other stories to tell your family other than trying to talk around the issues of what happened to you at Iraq or Afghanistan," Perez said.

To apply or for more information, visit the Canyon Heroes website.