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Dispatches from Atz’ is an on-going series chronicling the writings of Atz Kilcher during his time at Freedom Ranch for Heroes with the veterans of Project Healing Waters.


“I might as well tell you a little bit about my experience with disabled veterans who are part of Project Healing Waters in Wise River. It is another testimony and powerful experience in music and storytelling, in daring to share your journey, and believing that as humans we can affect each other in a positive healing way,”

Atz Kilcher

Vietnam veteran Atz Kilcher is an accomplished singer, song-writer, musician, story-teller and proud father. He is most widely known as the patriarch of Discovery Channel’s Emmy-short-listed program Alaska: The Last Frontier. Atz joined the Project Healing Waters family in 2021 during a trip to Freedom Ranch for Heroes.


Getting Back Up!

It always amazes me! Us humans. How alike we all are, and how different. It’s all in where you look. Where you hang out. It’s probably why we like hanging out with people who are like us. It’s easier, more fun. There’s more to talk about when you have something in common. I suppose that’s why I like hanging out with fellow vets.

But it is more of an art, a little harder, to get along with, or even get to like someone who is different. Especially when it comes to some of those often divisive differences such as  politics or religion or race. To me, part of being a compassionate human being, is learning how to find commonalities, in spite of our differences, and hang out there.

A brand-new group of vets here at freedom Ranch. Eight men of different ages and ethnicities. I am sure if I inquired, I would also find differences in politics and religion. But guess what? We are hanging out in our areas of commonality. Love of nature. Love of fishing. We are veterans. We are not only all hanging in there, we are survivors! Survivors of traumas of the past! Survivors of surgeries, and illnesses. We have all had to make some major adjustments in our life. We have all learned to be grateful for what we have. We have all learned acceptance. None of us are quitters. We all believe there is more, that we can be better, that we still can heal.

Yep, we have a whole lot in common! Differences, if they are noticed at all, soon slip away. It’s all in where you look, it’s all and where you hang out, what  you choose focus on. And of all of our commonalities, the one that is the most important to me, is not the love of nature , or fishing, or our military background, to me it is the courage not to quit. The drive to fulfill our destiny. The desire to continue discovering our purpose. What we want to do, what we were meant to do.

I talked with two guys this morning. Both have gone through some serious illnesses and surgeries. Both have gone through major adjustments. One guy, survived cancer. Serious surgery. Chemotherapy. Months of being hooked up to bags, and tubes. Lots of rerouting of internal plumbing. Learning how to live differently, how to care for himself differently. Right down to the nitty-gritty of having to learn how to deal with bodily functions differently. Every day having to make careful choices about what to take into his body. I can’t imagine!

The other guy, in part because of a recent surgery, and in part because of nerve problems in his hands, has had to retire from his job. Suddenly having to adjust to not working anymore. He told me how coming to a place like this helps him unwind, helps him slow down. Whether you are from a small rural town like he is, or from larger urban areas which some of these vets are from. A place like this helps them slow down, to unwind.

When I got done hearing these two Veta stories, I felt such a joy and happiness. I felt such hope and inspiration. Perhaps you might think it to be a strange reaction to hearing just a brief synopsis of what they have been through. But what I felt was due to their attitude. As they talked to me they actually smiled, they actually seemed excited about their new opportunities. Anybody listening to them would have said they seemed really happy. I felt happy for them because of their ability to face their challenges. Their ability- not only to accept all that they have been through, all that they have lost, all that which they can no longer do, but their ability to feel gratitude for what they still can do, for all the good that lies ahead, all the opportunities that still await them. One guy said,”I get to learn how to spend more time having fun.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a naïve beginner on that long trail of healing, of changing, of facing difficult challenges and traumas of the past. I know these two guys I talked to, probably have many down days, many days when they feel like quitting or giving up or feeling hopeless. But they’re on the trail. Gaining just a little everyday.

Gaining Just a Little EveryDay”

Bless you, if you’ve been healed

by one single prayer

or the laying on of hands

Or the latest drug

And now you’re a new man

Bless you

And bless you if you’ve been healed

Buy mindfulness and gratitude

Or weekend seminars

Or campfires blazing

Or gazing at the stars

Bless you

And bless you if you’re more like me 

with no change overnight

But every day you’re showing up,

 and you’re still in the fight

Through the mine fields and the nightmares

You’re still trying to find the way

Gaining just the little everyday

Gaining just a little every day

Bless you if you’ve been healed

By working out in the garden

Or working out in the gym

By playing on your old guitar

We’re Singing gospel hymns

Bless you

Bless you if you’ve been healed

By holding to the sacred word

Or to a fishing rod

By listening to the voice of nature, 

or the voice of God

Bless you

I prayed for a miracle but it never came

Compared myself to someone else

who seemed to have less pain

I finally found new normal

I care not what people say

I’m gaining just a little everyday

I’m gaining just a little everyday

And bless you if you’re more like me 

with no change overnight

But every day you’re showing up,

 and you’re still in the fight

Through the mine fields and the nightmares

You’re still trying to find the way

Gaining just the little everyday

Gaining just a little every day

It’s not a race, set your own pace

Take time have faith and pray

Gaining just a little everyday

Gaining just a little everyday

It’s not a race

Gaining just a little every day

Set your own pace

Gaining just a little everyday

Have faith and pray

Gaining just a little everyday

Gaining just a little everyday.

                               ~Atz Kilcher~

In my humble Homestead opinion, what defines a man, what really shows what he is made of, aint how rich he is, it ain’t how important or famous he is, it aint about his rank or job title. What defines a man, is how gracefully, and how gratefully, he can get back up, and wipe off the dust, after having gotten bucked off and kicked in the face and stomped on, how courageously he gets back in the saddle. Not only getting back on, but feeling grateful that he gets another chance, to ride, and to learn. To be able to resist the urge to be mad at the bronc that bucked him off! To be willing to learn to accept what happened. To be able to smile and wave his hat high and proudly at the cheering crowd.

Read more ‘Dispatches from Atz’

https://projecthealingwaters.org/freedom-ranch-for-heroes/just-add-water-dispatches-from-atz/
https://projecthealingwaters.org/freedom-ranch-for-heroes/airport-anxiety-dispatches-from-atz/
https://projecthealingwaters.org/freedom-ranch-for-heroes/ok-whats-going-on-here-dispatches-from-atz/
https://projecthealingwaters.org/freedom-ranch-for-heroes/lessons-dispatches-from-atz/
https://projecthealingwaters.org/freedom-ranch-for-heroes/real-heroes-dispatches-from-atz/
https://projecthealingwaters.org/freedom-ranch-for-heroes/you-gotta-let-it-in-dispatches-from-atz/
https://projecthealingwaters.org/freedom-ranch-for-heroes/gift-exchange-dispatches-from-atz/

Atz Kilcher was raised on a homestead in Homer, Alaska after his father and mother, Yule and Ruth, emigrated from Switzerland in the late 1930’s. The many skills learned and required on a homestead, as well as living a self-sufficient lifestyle, helped shape Atz’s character. As an adult, Atz worked as a rancher, horse trainer and carpenter. He received his Bachelor degree in psychology and his Masters in Social Work, which he used working with troubled teens and marriage and family therapy. He served in the army in the late 60’s and spent a year in Vietnam. Dealing with his own PTSD from a dysfunctional family and the trauma experienced in Vietnam, Atz developed great empathy for all veterans and anyone dealing with any type of trauma. Although he has been a therapist and been to many therapists over the years, talking with other veterans and sharing successes and failures as well as ups and downs has been the most helpful in his healing journey. Atz is an accomplished singer, song-writer, musician, story-teller and proud father. He is most widely known as the patriarch of Discovery Channel’s Emmy-short-listed program Alaska: The Last Frontier.

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