Military life is better with friends — and fresh air!
When Air Force spouse and photographer Hannah Wolt first moved to the island of Guam, she felt isolated and unsure of how to best settle into her new home. She knew that getting outside was “an incredible way to find friends in our military community and learn to love the places we call home.”
Wolt fell in love with outdoor adventures working at a recreational program in college and realized she missed having committed time outside. So, she gathered together a small group of hikers to begin exploring the island together. This group bonded and in 2018 Military Wild was formed, with Wolt serving as its president.
Military Wild is an organization dedicated to connecting military-affiliated families who want to find friends, have outdoor adventures and encourage environmental preservation.
Wolt and the other founding members recognized how important their time together on the trail was for forming connections.
“Easier hikes were an activity lots of us could share in common. More challenging hikes brought us closer as we pushed our boundaries together, got lost, laughed, and cried on the trail,” she said.
As the original members began to PCS, the group added members and chapters.
Wolt explains new chapters are opened when the organization can find a military community member to serve as an ambassador who shares “our passion for the outdoors and building community.” Ambassadors take on local event planning and social media, plus have knowledge of outdoor activities in the surrounding area.
Members of Military Wild receive access to chapter events, first chance for merchandise, available discounts through partners in the community perks program, and a membership pack. Active-duty service members, reservists, members of the National Guard, retirees, veterans, dependents, and military contractors are eligible to be members. A lifelong membership costs $25.
In addition to encouragement for getting outside, members can connect to a new community and, as Wolt says, “have friends and trails waiting for ya before you even start packing boxes” with each move.
One of the newest chapters is at Fort Bliss, Texas, where Army wife Lara Deutsch serves as the ambassador. Deutsch is originally from the Philippines, and has lived in both Hawaii and Texas as a military spouse. She said she enjoys helping other military families explore because she has seen how getting outdoors can help you boost your mood, explore other cultures, move out of your comfort zone, or “see what the world can offer beyond technology.”
While the pandemic has prevented the chapter from meeting in person, there is already an active Facebook group for Texas members to build community and share ideas. They recently hosted a “quarantine competition” where teams could win prizes for completing a list of challenges within social distancing rules.
Following state, local, and base guidelines, Deutsch hopes to host a meet and greet for the chapter when it is safe to do so but for now, she has some suggestions for hiking in West Texas if you are located near Fort Bliss:
- Starting small if hiking is new for you — consider a sunset walk, or a trip to a local park.
- Franklin Mountains State Park for local hiking, including the moderate Aztec Cave Trail that ends at a cave.
- Big Bend National Park and Big Bend State Park, for a longer trip, both with plenty of hiking for all levels, camping, and star gazing at a certified Dark Sky area. There are also opportunities for guided kayaking, canoeing, off-roading and other tours.
- At the McDonald Observatory there are solar viewings, star parties, and telescope gazing.
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park has a variety of hikes including one to Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas.
- Monahans Sandhills State Park allows for hiking and sledding on sand dunes.
Currently, there are 10 other chapters that are active or coming up in 2021 including: Alabama, Florida (coming soon), Guam, Hawaii, Kansas, New Mexico (brand new), Ohio (coming 2021), Texas, Virginia and Washington.
A new fall product line for Military Wild launched in October. It includes a Gold Star patch designed by a “Wild Child” who is a member of a Gold Star family. Proceeds from the patch will go to the Gary Sinise Foundation’s Snowball Express, serving Gold Star children. Other products include sweatshirts, hats, and a trail pup patch to celebrate furry family members who hike.