Making a Difference: Outdoor activities helping veterans heal

Veterans are using outdoor activities like hunting and fishing to heal because of an organization in Potter County. (WJAC)

CLEARFIELD COUNTY, Pa. (WJAC) - When men and women return home from serving our country, it can be difficult to cope with what they went through.

Some end up getting hooked on outdoor activities thanks to an organization in Potter County, Pennsylvania. A motorcycle ride in Somerset County next weekend will raise money so more veterans from all over the country can come to Pennsylvania to heal while enjoying nature.

With a fishing rod in hand and his family by his side at moose creek in Clearfield County. This is Brandon Longe's happy place.

Longe joined the military at just 18 years old. He served two deployments as an army sergeant in Iraq.

“I think one of the hardest things is deploying to a combat zone you might train vigorously in what you're trained to do in combat but to be over there and see the destruction and poverty and then if you're engaging with the enemy at 18, 19 years old that’s a lot, that's a lot for anybody,” said veteran Brandon Longe.

He was eventually released for neck injuries and ended up in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to recover.

“I was in Walter Reed for a year and a half, after being hospital for so long I kind of lost ambition to really want to fish or hunt,” Longe said.

Many veterans suffer from PTSD and need an outlet.

Thankfully, Longe got hooked on nature, again. He thanks retired Army Colonel Ed Fisher who started LEEK Hunting and Mountain Preserve in Oswayo in Potter County, Pennsylvania.

Longe was one of the first soldiers to benefit from the nonprofit organization that offers therapeutic outdoor activities like hunting and fishing on 382 acres for veterans regardless of injuries or disabilities.

“It’s not a destructive coping mechanism like drugs or alcohol, you’re out here with mother nature being one,” Longe said. “Soldiers come back if they don't have good outlets they get caught up in some really bad things. That’s why thanks to Ed it’s so good that he as that because it does give you a little spark of energy, a little bit of hope, you can move on and try to do good things."

People can help the organization on Saturday, June 2nd. Bikers will roar to Somerset Alliance Church for the Wings for Warriors 3rd Annual Benefit Motorcycle Ride.

Organizer and co-founder of the ride, Gary Yoder, knew this was the perfect way to honor veterans.

“Well I graduated in 1971 when the Vietnam war was going down, I’m not a veteran but I’ve been patriotic my whole life and I’ve seen what happened to the veterans from the Vietnam war and this gives me an opportunity to try to help to show that America does car for the veterans and we're just a small part of it,” Yoder said.

When wounded warriors visit LEEK, they're treated like the heroes they are, surrounded by other veterans and their families.

Longe also goes to counseling, the local vet center and VA hospital. Having support from different resources and love from family is important to him.

“There you go! Yay! You got him. Woo! Good job!” Longe screamed in joy as his son Landon caught a fish.

Now, Longe hopes other veterans will cast a line and reel in new memories.

"You just got to pull all your resources and utilize them, don't be afraid of stigma. We only have one life we already went through hell over there in Iraq or Afghanistan or whenever you were deployed to. Let’s come home, build a family and have a good life, make the best of it,” Longe said.

Once again, the Wings for Warriors ride will be Saturday, June 2nd at Somerset Alliance Church. Rain or shine! Registration begins at 11 a.m. and kick stands will go up at 1 p.m. Contact Gary Yoder at 814-279-2653 for more information.

Gold Wing Road Riders Association Chapter T from Somerset and Somerset Alliance Church Riders of Faith helped put the ride together. So far, they've raised $10,000 for LEEK Hunting and Mountain Preserve.

LEEK holds several sponsored hunts throughout the year at their location in Potter County.

If you want to learn more, the organization's main event of the year is just around the corner the 10th annual open house fundraiser and benefit motorcycle run is June 15th to the 17th. You can learn more on their website or on their Facebook page.

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