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Unconquered by Kilimanjaro, Part 1: Understanding the War at Home

Trigger warning: This piece discusses topics including war, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Substance Use Disorder (SUD), depression and suicide. If you or someone close to you is suffering from suicidal ideation, we encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or seek out local resources for support.

 

For many retired military professionals and first responders, the transition to civilian life is abrupt and jarring as they grapple with challenges like survivor’s guilt, PTSD, depression and suicidal ideation. According to Sheep Dog Impact Assistance (SDIA), an Arkansas-based non-profit that specializes in serving these types of individuals, a lot of these problems stem from a lack of support and direction offered upon leaving the service—support and direction that they aim to provide.

“When you spend the vast majority of your adult life doing something, it becomes your identity,” says USMC Veteran of 27 years and SDIA Warrior PATHH Program Director, Chris Jackson. “In the course of a single day, you lose that identity.”

Many military veterans find themselves in a sort of void after leaving the service—one with plenty of people telling them what they should be doing while lacking the structure and guidance needed for them to act on it.

“To be quite honest, I don’t think that any of the military services do a very good job of helping you with that transition,” said Jackson. “They spend years training us and giving us seven days’ worth of ‘here’s how to tie your tie, put on your suit and write your resume. Good luck.’”

After living with so much structure, routine and discipline built into every day, it’s easy to fumble the first steps into civilian life.

There are some well-known organizations out there to provide support and community—Veterans Affairs (VA) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) offer resources and assistance for veterans who seek it—but there’s still a gap between what they offer and what is actually needed.

When SDIA CEO and Founder, Sergeant Major Lance Nutt turned to these organizations in between combat tours, seeking a familiar camaraderie and connection that he had while actively serving, he found himself unsatisfied.

“The culture was, ‘let’s go hang out at the VFW Lodge or American Legion Lodge and let’s sit around and drink and smoke and relive our lives in the military,” Nutt said. “It just didn’t resonate with me—it still doesn’t today.”

Nutt didn’t want to spend his time looking back on the trauma he’d experienced during his tour overseas, feeling it would only serve to keep the wounds fresh. He didn’t want to fall into the same trap that many veterans find themselves in after service.

PTSD takes a major toll on veterans. A large percentage learn to cope, but many find themselves grappling with it. There’s no way to truly comprehend the scale of the problem without looking at some difficult numbers.

According to the Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, published in November 2020, the total number veterans who completed suicide between 2005 and 2018, a 13-year timespan, is over 89,000. By comparison, the total number of reported active-duty U.S. military deaths between 2006 and April, 2021, a little over 15 years, is 13,969, according to a Congressional Research Service report published this past May.

Put simply, the number of military veterans who die by suicide surpasses the number of active military personnel who die in combat by multiples, annually. If war is dangerous, it seems surviving it can be even more so.

Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is also pervasive among veterans, with Veterans Affairs (VA) reporting roughly 10% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan struggling with alcohol and drug abuse. Nearly 30% of veterans diagnosed with PTSD also suffer from co-occurring SUD.

Nutt and his team at SDIA believe that they can provide the structure, fulfillment and healing needed to turn those numbers around. Their personal understanding of the challenges faced by veterans in the wake of their service has helped them create programs that battle the problem in ways that aren’t necessarily accessible elsewhere.

 

There are some well-known organizations out there to provide support and community—Veterans Affairs (VA) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) offer resources and assistance for veterans who seek it—but there’s still a gap between what they offer and what is actually needed. When SDIA CEO and Founder, Sergeant Major Lance Nutt turned to these organizations in between combat tours, seeking a familiar camaraderie and connection that he had while actively serving, he found himself unsatisfied. “The culture was, ‘let’s go hang out at the VFW Lodge or American Legion Lodge and let’s sit around and drink and smoke and relive our lives in the military,” Nutt said. “It just didn’t resonate with me—it still doesn’t today.” Nutt didn’t want to spend his time looking back on the trauma he’d experienced during his tour overseas, feeling it would only serve to keep the wounds fresh. He didn’t want to fall into the same trap that many veterans find themselves in after service.

PTSD takes a major toll on veterans. A large percentage learn to cope, but many find themselves grappling with it. There’s no way to truly comprehend the scale of the problem without looking at some difficult numbers. According to the Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, published in November 2020, the total number veterans who completed suicide between 2005 and 2018, a 13-year timespan, is over 89,000. By comparison, the total number of reported active-duty U.S. military deaths between 2006 and April, 2021, a little over 15 years, is 13,969, according to a Congressional Research Service report published this past May. Put simply, the number of military veterans who die by suicide surpasses the number of active military personnel who die in combat by multiples, annually. If war is dangerous, it seems surviving it can be even more so. Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is also pervasive among veterans, with Veterans Affairs (VA) reporting roughly 10% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan struggling with alcohol and drug abuse. Nearly 30% of veterans diagnosed with PTSD also suffer from co-occurring SUD. Nutt and his team at SDIA believe that they can provide the structure, fulfillment and healing needed to turn those numbers around. Their personal understanding of the challenges faced by veterans in the wake of their service has helped them create programs that battle the problem in ways that aren’t necessarily accessible elsewhere.

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out.     It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt. “Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” he considered. At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S.     While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch.     “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West.     “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

PTSD takes a major toll on veterans. A large percentage learn to cope, but many find themselves grappling with it. There’s no way to truly comprehend the scale of the problem without looking at some difficult numbers. According to the Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, published in November 2020, the total number veterans who completed suicide between 2005 and 2018, a 13-year timespan, is over 89,000. By comparison, the total number of reported active-duty U.S. military deaths between 2006 and April, 2021, a little over 15 years, is 13,969, according to a Congressional Research Service report published this past May. Put simply, the number of military veterans who die by suicide surpasses the number of active military personnel who die in combat by multiples, annually. If war is dangerous, it seems surviving it can be even more so. Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is also pervasive among veterans, with Veterans Affairs (VA) reporting roughly 10% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan struggling with alcohol and drug abuse. Nearly 30% of veterans diagnosed with PTSD also suffer from co-occurring SUD. Nutt and his team at SDIA believe that they can provide the structure, fulfillment and healing needed to turn those numbers around. Their personal understanding of the challenges faced by veterans in the wake of their service has helped them create programs that battle the problem in ways that aren’t necessarily accessible elsewhere.

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out.     It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt. “Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” he considered. At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S.     While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch.     “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West.     “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

PTSD takes a major toll on veterans. A large percentage learn to cope, but many find themselves grappling with it. There’s no way to truly comprehend the scale of the problem without looking at some difficult numbers. According to the Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, published in November 2020, the total number veterans who completed suicide between 2005 and 2018, a 13-year timespan, is over 89,000. By comparison, the total number of reported active-duty U.S. military deaths between 2006 and April, 2021, a little over 15 years, is 13,969, according to a Congressional Research Service report published this past May. Put simply, the number of military veterans who die by suicide surpasses the number of active military personnel who die in combat by multiples, annually. If war is dangerous, it seems surviving it can be even more so. Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is also pervasive among veterans, with Veterans Affairs (VA) reporting roughly 10% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan struggling with alcohol and drug abuse. Nearly 30% of veterans diagnosed with PTSD also suffer from co-occurring SUD. Nutt and his team at SDIA believe that they can provide the structure, fulfillment and healing needed to turn those numbers around. Their personal understanding of the challenges faced by veterans in the wake of their service has helped them create programs that battle the problem in ways that aren’t necessarily accessible elsewhere.

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out.   Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA   It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt. “Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” he considered. At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S.   SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA   While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch.   Image via SDIA   “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West.   Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA   “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

PTSD takes a major toll on veterans. A large percentage learn to cope, but many find themselves grappling with it. There’s no way to truly comprehend the scale of the problem without looking at some difficult numbers. According to the Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, published in November 2020, the total number veterans who completed suicide between 2005 and 2018, a 13-year timespan, is over 89,000. By comparison, the total number of reported active-duty U.S. military deaths between 2006 and April, 2021, a little over 15 years, is 13,969, according to a Congressional Research Service report published this past May. Put simply, the number of military veterans who die by suicide surpasses the number of active military personnel who die in combat by multiples, annually. If war is dangerous, it seems surviving it can be even more so. Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is also pervasive among veterans, with Veterans Affairs (VA) reporting roughly 10% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan struggling with alcohol and drug abuse. Nearly 30% of veterans diagnosed with PTSD also suffer from co-occurring SUD. Nutt and his team at SDIA believe that they can provide the structure, fulfillment and healing needed to turn those numbers around. Their personal understanding of the challenges faced by veterans in the wake of their service has helped them create programs that battle the problem in ways that aren’t necessarily accessible elsewhere.

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out.   Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA   It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt. “Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” he considered. At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S.   SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA   While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch.   Image via SDIA   “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West.   Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA   “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

According to the Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, published in November 2020, the total number veterans who completed suicide between 2005 and 2018, a 13-year timespan, is over 89,000. By comparison, the total number of reported active-duty U.S. military deaths between 2006 and April, 2021, a little over 15 years, is 13,969, according to a Congressional Research Service report published this past May. Put simply, the number of military veterans who die by suicide surpasses the number of active military personnel who die in combat by multiples, annually. If war is dangerous, it seems surviving it can be even more so. Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is also pervasive among veterans, with Veterans Affairs (VA) reporting roughly 10% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan struggling with alcohol and drug abuse. Nearly 30% of veterans diagnosed with PTSD also suffer from co-occurring SUD. Nutt and his team at SDIA believe that they can provide the structure, fulfillment and healing needed to turn those numbers around. Their personal understanding of the challenges faced by veterans in the wake of their service has helped them create programs that battle the problem in ways that aren’t necessarily accessible elsewhere.

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out.   Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA   It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt. “Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” he considered. At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S.   SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA   While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch.   Image via SDIA   “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West.   Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA   “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out.   Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA   It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt. “Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” he considered. At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S.   SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA   While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch.   Image via SDIA   “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West.   Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA   “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out.   Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA   It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt. “Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” he considered. At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S.   SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA   While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch.   Image via SDIA   “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West.   Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA   “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out. Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt. “Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” he considered. At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S. SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch. Image via SDIA “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West. Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch. Image via SDIA “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West. Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out. Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt. “Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” he considered. At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S. SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch. Image via SDIA “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West. Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out. Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt. “Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” he considered. At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S. SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch. Image via SDIA “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West. Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out. Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt. “Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” he considered. At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S. SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch. Image via SDIA “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West. Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out. Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt. “Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” he considered. At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S. SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out. Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt. “Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” he considered. At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S. SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch. Image via SDIA “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West. Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out. Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt. “Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” he considered. At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S. SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch. Image via SDIA “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West. Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out. Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt. “Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” he considered. At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S. SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch. Image via SDIA “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West. Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out. Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt.

“Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” Nutt considered.

At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S. SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch. Image via SDIA “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West. Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out. Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt.

“Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” Nutt considered.

At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S. SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch. Image via SDIA “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West. Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out. Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt.

“Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” Nutt considered.

At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S. SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch. Image via SDIA “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West. Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out. Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt.

“Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” Nutt considered.

At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S. SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch. Image via SDIA “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West. Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out. Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt.

“Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” Nutt considered.

At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S. SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch. Image via SDIA “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West. Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out. Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt.

“Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” Nutt considered.

At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S. SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long.   “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch. Image via SDIA “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West. Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out. Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt.

“Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” Nutt considered.

At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S. SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long. “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch. Image via SDIA “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West. Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.

 

 

Giving ‘Sheep Dogs’ a Purpose

SDIA was founded in 2010 by Nutt partway through his 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). “The story grows longer, it seems like, every year,” Nutt joked during a virtual interview we held this past September. Back in 2005, after returning from a tough combat tour the previous year, Nutt found himself watching the news coverage from Hurricane Katrina. “I was sitting on the couch, like many Americans, going ‘why we aren’t doing more?’” Nutt said. “I stopped and looked at myself and said, ‘well, why are you sitting on your butt? Why don’t you get up and do something about it?’” Being a Marine and a man of action, Nutt assembled a small, independent relief team of fellow active and retired military and first responders. Together, they travelled to Pass Christian, MS, for three days of service and support for those affected by the natural disaster until their own supplies ran out. Hurricane Katrina Response Efforts - Image via SDIA It was on the return drive home, reflecting on the experience and how good it felt to make a difference, that an idea occurred to Nutt.

“Imagine if we could do this for the rest of our lives—just help men and women, fellow Americans, that are in need during a disaster,” Nutt considered.

At that time in his life, Nutt, like many of our military service people, had been struggling with serious emotional and physical trauma following that recent combat tour, during which he saw fellow Marines and sailors lose their lives. It took a toll. “I was in a bad enough place where I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue a career in the Marine Corps,’” he said. “I was in a really bad space.” But the Katrina relief mission planted a seed. Something about putting his military training and expertise into action outside of combat triggered some healing for him. “Fortunately, I think, from that experience, I was able to overcome some of my own trauma and I went back into the Marine Corps and ended up finishing a 30-year career,” Nutt said. “I look back at that as kind of the catalyst [for SDIA].” Five years later, with several combat tours now under his belt and retirement eligibility on the horizon, Nutt filed for a 501(c)(3) under the name Sheep Dog Impact Assistance—a name inspired by a book titled On Combat. Nutt identified strongly with an idea the book shared: certain people are wired to serve and protect. In the book, author and veteran Dave Grossman positions these individuals as Sheep Dogs, protecting the herd. Nutt wanted his nonprofit to provide impactful assistance for these Sheep Dogs, similar to what he’d experienced on his own disaster relief trip. “The [foundation] started there, all based on the idea that I needed something to continue giving me purpose and an opportunity to feel like I still had a reason to get out of bed every morning,” Nutt said. “The initial thought was that it’d be just a bunch of veteran, first responder hillbillies in northwest Arkansas that had an opportunity to continue giving back and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with that.” That Katrina relief mission became an early model for SDIA’s activity in the early 2010s. Grounded by the core belief that helping is healing, the non-profit began organizing military veterans and first responders in response to natural disasters around the U.S. SDIA Disaster Response Efforts - Image via SDIA While the aid SDIA provided during these natural disasters was impactful for the civilians receiving it, these relief missions were as much about providing structure, purpose and reengagement for the Sheep Dogs deployed to help.

 

 

SDIA’s Expansion

With its roots based on the utilization of skills that veterans—and first responders—hone during their time in service, SDIA’s primary goal is helping these individuals rediscover and build upon their calling. “My purpose is not sitting around and reliving and hashing what I did, it’s about using what I learned from those experiences to help others grow into the version of their best selves,” said Nutt. Mobilizing for disaster response helped accomplish this, but waiting around for natural disasters in order to capitalize on those skills and experiences became problematic before long.   “Unfortunately, what we quickly realized is that sitting around waiting on bad things to happen is in itself depressing,” Nutt said. “We were training, but there’s only so much training you can do until you’re like ‘put me in the game coach.’” Being unable to know when the next response was going to be needed and waiting idly until then started taking its toll on the members of SDIA. “We did some really good things in the first two years in Disaster Response, but we quickly realized that couldn’t be all that we’re doing,” Nutt said. To fill the time between natural disasters and continue building camaraderie and community within their community, SDIA began organizing outdoor adventures—anything from snowmobiling to scuba diving—all in the name of getting Sheep Dogs off the couch. Image via SDIA “If getting you off the couch is telling you that I’m going to take you basket weaving under water then we’ll do it for you,” Nutt laughed. “Whatever I can use as a tool that inspires you to get the hell out of your isolation, we’re going to do it.” As SDIA began including these Outdoor Adventures and participating in events like Spartan Races, word began to spread about their program. Social media and word of mouth gave new visibility to SDIA and how it was changing the lives of veterans and first responders. Grassroots interest led to the formation of new teams and chapters, spreading SDIA’s reach far beyond Arkansas. Before long, SDIA was helping hundreds of veterans across the US each year, both through their Disaster Response Missions and Outdoor Adventure program. By 2020, over 7,000 Sheep Dogs had been impacted across various branches of the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medical first responders. With the increase in participants, a new need became apparent. “There was this ability to get you off the couch and try to inspire you to live a better life, and then there was this ability to give you continued service opportunities through Disaster Response,” Nutt said. “But we didn’t have an answer to the mental wellness piece that was failing so many of our veterans.” SDIA became determined to answer that need. In 2020, through partnership with Boulder Crest Foundation, SDIA began to offer Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), a “non-clinical program designed to cultivate and facilitate Posttraumatic Growth” according to their website. “It’s training—it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment or anything like that,” Jackson explains. “Veterans and first responders all respond to training a lot better.” The program is organized over an 18-month period, at the start of which participants attend a 7-day initiation training. “The great thing about that training is that it was built by warriors, for warriors. The instructors are all combat veterans or first responders who have all been there,” Jackson says. “And then those students, throughout the course of that training, cohere and are there to support each other and hold each other accountable remotely over the next 18 months.” Each week, throughout the program, the participants are prompted with new growth opportunities and have follow up calls with the rest of their cohort for ongoing support In contrast to other resources available out there, Warrior PATHH avoids fixating on the source of trauma and focuses on the effects of that trauma, equipping individuals with the tools they need to grow through that experience. Nutt uses the “second mountain” as a metaphor for this journey, explaining that many people look back at their career in the service as a mountain—the first mountain—that they’ve climbed and returned from. The second mountain represents life after the service, and Nutt argues that it can be an even more meaningful and rewarding summit in people’s proverbial lives. “Too many of our men and women today turn around and they spend the rest of their lives looking back at that first mountain,” Nutt says. “We’re all about getting them to do a 180, turn around and start looking at the new mountain in front of them, which is going to genuinely be their best life—if they’re willing to start the journey.”

 

 

Hope at Walter Reed

At one point, roughly three months into his time at Walter Reed, West was visited by a gentleman in his dress blues, the formal attire of the Marines. West didn’t know it at the time, but that man was also a double amputee—his prosthetics hidden beneath the formal attire he wore. “That was the first time I had seen someone, you know, with my injuries—and I couldn’t tell. He was in pants, he was in his dress blues, and what I hate about that was that I didn’t listen to a word he said. I didn’t care, I was in such a depressed state I think I just wanted him to leave my room.” It wasn’t until another man, aptly nicknamed the Milkshake Man for the daily vanilla and chocolate milkshakes he’d bring the veterans in Ward 58 where West was recovering, came into his room to ask about the encounter that he found out about the injuries he shared with the Marine. This planted a seed of hope in West. Scott West undergoing rehabilitation efforts. Image via SDIA “I said ‘man, that guy is in his late thirties, early forties’ and I couldn’t tell [he was an amputee]. I said ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’” West began pushing himself in physical therapy for the first time, going in two or three times a day to learn to walk with prosthetics. Within four and a half months, he was invited to go on an outdoor adventure with a nonprofit that helped get wounded veterans active. “I still could not walk, and they pushed my wheelchair out there, they strapped my [prosthetic] legs to a snowboard, I put them on and they picked me up and pushed me downhill,” West recalled. He may have only made it about 200 feet down the slope, but the experience inspired him to keep going out for more outdoor endeavors. “Within five months, I was competing in the Extremity Games, wakeboarding and kayaking,” West said. “Once I kind of got that drive back again and I was walking again, I was there at Walter Reed and around my brothers … I felt like things were going well. I thought things were going good.” After 13 months at Walter Reed, retiring out of the Army, West returned to his hometown in Branson, MO. “That’s where it all sunk in,” West said.

 

 

West’s War Back Home

Leaving his unit in Iraq—his brothers in arms—was one thing, but at Walter Reed he was still surrounded by fellow soldiers who understood what he’d been through and had their own experiences in combat. They spoke the same language, one that few others understand outside the military. “Anytime I meet another fellow veteran, or now first responder that I’m with Sheep Dog, I know that within two seconds of meeting them that they’d die for me and I’d die for them, and I know that I can crack a shitty ass joke within two seconds and not get my head knocked off because that’s just what we do,” West laughed. The thing was, West didn’t have anyone like that to bond with back at home. Like many veterans, especially those that have experienced trauma while serving the military, he found himself in a void back home. “I started smoking, drinking, drugging—anything to numb the pain of where I was at.” West started self-medicating with marijuana, but when that was no longer enough to mute his pain, anxiety and depression, he began abusing his pain medication. Things escalated for West and he lost his marriage and custody of his four-year-old. “From 2012 to 2015, when I found Sheep Dog, I was just in and out of rehab, in and out of rehab.” During rehab, West says he was stellar. The structure and support of the program helped him stand out as a leader and example. “I’m good at following direction, I’m good at following orders. In the military, that’s what I did,” West said. “I was good at doing what I was told to do.” But the day he would leave rehab, he’d be back to abusing pain medication and dodging his parole officer, so the cycle continued. Eventually, he found himself in a jail cell where he’d spend 21 days waiting to see a judge. Taking some sympathy towards West’s situation, the judge let him out without needing bail, but on the condition that he’d make a promise to his mother. “I remember saying ‘hey, I’m going to get back in rehab, and this is going to be the last time,’ which is probably what they’d heard the last four or five times.” West’s parents implored him to try a year-long program, instead of bouncing in and out of the 30-day programs he’d been trying. He promised he would and, true to his word, West enrolled in a full year of rehab. At the end of that year, he re-upped for another year. Like before, the structure it offered helped.