Team Overland – Wilderness Healing Through Off-Road Exploration

Oct. 27, 2016 By Seth Parks, Photos Courtesy of Team Overland

Many of us live for the days we get to spend in the remote woods, isolated desert, or inaccessible chaparral. We have favorite routes and camp spots. And most of us have friends and family members we enjoy sharing the outdoors with.

Perhaps John Muir put is best when he said, “Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

Regardless of the value we place on the journey versus the destination, we are not alone in benefiting from the rejuvenating impact of spending time outdoors. Matthew Havniear knows this, and he knows the pain of war too. After serving in the Marine Corps in Afghanistan as a Squad Leader in the 2nd Battalion 7th Marines, Matt came home with PSTD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder). In fact, 20 percent of our service men and women return with PTSD or its cousin, clinical depression.

Team Overland is a non-profit headed up by a veteran looking to rehabilitate other veterans with outdoor recreation.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat. Sufferers frequently relive the event, awake and/or asleep, and are hyper-vigilant or on edge. Daily activities, like going to work or school or simply spending time with the people they care about can be challenging. Symptoms can be delayed by months or years, but in general if they last more than a couple months the sufferer is likely experiencing PTSD.

PTSD can be as debilitating as a broken fibula, but self-diagnosis is more problematic and avoiding the pain may feel easier than facing it. As a result, half of service men and women who have PTSD do not seek treatment. Matt was one of them. But then, as he put it, “I went camping. Well, we used to call it camping. Now it’s called overlanding. Whatever you call it, we drove into the woods and camped.” The benefits, he says, were immediate and demonstrable. Socializing became easier and both his stress and anxiety began to decline.

A new Toyota 4Runner was added to the Team Overland arsenal recently. The Team Overland team has taken out more than 50 veterans and their families so far.

Matt knew he was not alone and was confident the healing benefits of the outdoors could help others in his community. In early 2015 Team Overland was formed as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The group utilizes outdoor adventures, particularly overlanding, as an outlet to overcome challenges associated with PTSD and to help facilitate reintegration into civilian life. It provides veterans with camaraderie, encouragement, reintegration, and support.

Team Overland’s approach is different than many other veteran-focused organizations, not only in its use of overlanding as a conduit to healing but through its inclusive approach. With Team Overland, everyone is encouraged to participate. Not just the vets themselves, but also their family and loved ones. It’s all part of the organization’s focus on reintegration. And their inclusive strategy is consistent with the principles of the most effective form of PTSD treatment, according to the Veteran’s Administration, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

To be clear, none of Team Overland’s activities involve the delivery of mental health services. Yet their activities reinforce research-based therapies such as CBT. Matt and his team are happy to provide referrals for a variety of mental health and reintegration services, both private and public, but their mission is to provide a healthy, fun social environment where vets can manage their stress and improve their cognitive coping skills.

Matt led his first Team Overland trip in April of 2015. Since then, the organization’s five volunteer trail guides and two dozen volunteers behind the scenes have organized about one trip per month, sharing the overland experience with more than 50 veterans. Participants do not pay. The organization operates entirely on donations. Trips are typically weekend length and local to southwest Oregon. Destinations have included Shale City Lost Lake Reservoir, Wagner Butte, and Dutchman’s Fire Lookout.  

Team Overland is mostly run by volunteers, and at present it only operates out of its home state of Oregon.

The vehicles used by Team Overland are owned by the trail guides and provided at no cost. And these are some serious rigs – stock trucks need not apply. They run a heavily modified FJ Cruiser, 80-Series Land Cruiser, Wrangler Rubicon, and Tacoma. And Team Overland recently built a 2016 4Runner into a highly capable trail and off-road rig with the participation of several aftermarket performance parts manufacturers who wanted to support Matt's cause. Their 4Runner boasts Icon suspension, Pelfreybilt bumpers, CBI armoring, Prinsu roof rack, Cascadia rooftop tent, K&N air intake system, Magnaflow exhaust, Warn winch, Factor 55 recovery accessories, Diabolical drawer system, SnoMaster 12v Fridge/Freezer, and 33 inch Falken Tires.

As capable as the Team Overland 4Runner and their other rigs may be, the trail guides must be cautious in the routes they select. For example, something as simple as following another vehicle kicking up heavy dust can trigger anxiety for a PTSD sufferer who served in arid environments like Iraq or Afghanistan. Other triggers can include the types of highly technical terrain sometimes associated with overlanding. But these trips are not about finding the limits of drivers and vehicles. They are about coming together and helping veterans in need.

Matt and his trail guides have their favorite spots, some hidden, and they hope to keep it that way. And they have their favorite people to share the outdoors with too - PTSD sufferers, their loved ones, and the volunteers at Team Overland who make it all happen.

If you want to help vets through Team Overland please either click the donate button on the Team Overland homepage or contact Matt Havniear here. Newsletter
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