TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation.
Hometown: Hamilton, Montana
Occupation: U.S. Army Special Forces | Founder and Executive Director of the Two Wolf Foundation.
Conservation credentials: Through his leadership at the Two Wolf Foundation, Brian provides Veterans a chance to serve together again with purpose through conservation and stewardship projects on America’s public lands.
Following a distinguished career in the U.S. Army, lifelong outdoorsman Brian Flynn returned home from a deployment in Afghanistan and struggled with the challenges of transitioning to civilian life. Hunting, fishing, and the natural beauty of America’s public lands helped propel him through his darkest days and launched a personal journey of healing that ultimately led to the founding of the Two Wolf Foundation and a new mission to bring meaning and purpose to his fellow Veterans through conservation and land stewardship projects. We are inspired by his commitment to empowering and healing others through these experiences, and we’re proud to share his words with you.
Here is his story.
“Once the uniform comes off, it can feel like it’s just you, left to scrap it out alone. In the creation of Two Wolf Foundation, I saw conservation and land stewardship as a new mission, one that would need a team to accomplish it. This new mission would give us a chance to continue to serve together again with meaning and purpose.”Brian Flynn
My introduction to the outdoors began with weekend fishing adventures for largemouth bass with my father. Early childhood was a difficult time in my life, my parents divorced when I was very young, and I struggled as most do, trying to make sense of it all. Around the age of 8, I moved to southern California to live with my dad — not far from the world-famous largemouth bass haven of Lake Casitas. Every Saturday morning before the sun had time to rise over the Topatopa Mountains, we would head to the lake with a bag full of PB&J sandwiches and our spinning reels. Those early days of my life fishing for the next world record largemouth would become the foundation of my love for the outdoors. Fishing would serve as the primary outlet in my life, allowing me to disconnect from the stress and noise of a chaotic world while keeping me curious about each body of water I would encounter.
Twenty years later, and what felt like a lifetime of war as a U.S. Army Green Beret (Special Forces), I returned home from a deployment in Afghanistan and found myself struggling with posttraumatic stress (which I wouldn’t admit until years later) and the laundry list of associated mental health struggles including depression, anxiety, and a general loss of joy in my life. One of my closest friends, and Special Forces teammate, recognized the bad shape I was in and took me to a local bow shop and said, “pick one out, we’re going deer hunting.”
I had fished nearly all my life, and hunting was totally new, yet I appreciated the challenge that archery hunting whitetail deer presented. I walked out of that shop with a brand-new Mathews ZXT, a handful of arrows, and a practice target. I had a lot to learn in a hurry and I became fully consumed by crafting a new set of skills that were necessary for a successful harvest in the woods of Tennessee and Kentucky.
It is hard to explain, but I believe that over the following years, hunting is what pulled me through one of the darkest times of my life. It brought me closer to people that I cared for, it gave me necessary solitude in nature to decompress, and it provided me with unparalleled moments of gratitude surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes filled with incredible sunrises and sunsets that I might not have ever seen.
On my personal journey of healing from the invisible wounds of war and the common struggles associated with transition from military service (loss of purpose, loss of identity, and loss of belonging) I was on a mission to relocate my family from the southeastern United States to the mountains and woods of the West.
On a scouting trip to Montana, my wife and I took a day trip to Bowman Lake, a remote alpine lake in Glacier National Park. After making the trek from Columbia Falls, down more than 40 miles of washboard dirt roads, we arrived at a small campground right on the lake. It was the most breathtaking view I have ever witnessed. Standing there on the shoreline, I was so overcome with joy, amazement, and awe from the towering mountains ascending straight from the water’s edge. My life’s calling was revealed. My new purpose would be to create moments like I was experiencing — a joyful and healing connection to nature — for my fellow warriors struggling with PTSD and associated mental health issues. The work to establish Two Wolf Foundation began immediately.
The Two Wolf Foundation is a military veteran founded 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that organizes small teams of military veterans and former first responders to connect, serve, and grow stronger together in the accomplishment of a new mission: the conservation and stewardship of our public lands.
I am very grateful to now call western Montana home. It is truly an outdoorsman’s paradise. Its abundant hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation opportunities provide more for me than I will ever be able to describe. I very recently started to fly fish, and now I would say that my dream day is hiking along a small mountain stream catching native Westslope Cutthroat trout right here in Montana. I am planning a trip next year with some friends to fish for native California Golden Trout in the Eastern Sierra. Ask me this question again in a year and I might have to change my answer…
Being involved in conservation and stewardship of our public lands has brought a whole new level of appreciation and meaning to the time that I spent outdoors. The power of nature and outdoor recreation to promote healing is undeniable. Time spent outdoors has proven measurable positive impacts on our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Being able to give back to these outdoor spaces that provide us with so much is incredibly special to me. Through participation in conservation and stewardship, I find myself cultivating a much deeper connection to the land and a sense of pride knowing that I am doing my part to ensure that these healing spaces will still be accessible for future generations.
One of the most impacting elements of Two Wolf Foundation’s Warrior Stewardship program is being able to serve again as a member of a team. It fosters a renewed sense of belonging. The transition from military service can be extremely difficult and very lonely as life in the military is built on the framework of community. Throughout a military career, you will rarely do anything alone, there is always a “battle buddy” — the squad, the platoon, the company, and so on. In my case, the SFOD-A (Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha), a twelve-man Special Forces team, was the hardest thing to lose. The bond and friendships built during deployment, training, and in the team room give you the greatest sense of belonging achievable. But once the uniform comes off, it can feel like it’s just you, left to scrap it out alone. In the creation of Two Wolf Foundation, I saw conservation and land stewardship as a new mission, one that would need a team to accomplish it. This new mission would give us a chance to continue to serve together again with meaning and purpose.
Two Wolf Foundation piloted their first Warrior Stewardship Team in October 2022, putting together a team of six combat veterans that embarked on a 1,100-mile overland adventure from Montana to Arizona with a mission to assist the Arizona Trail Association and the AZT VETS program with badly needed trail maintenance on the Arizona National Scenic Trail within the Four Peaks Wilderness. Over the course of the 11-day expedition, the team camped and explored public lands across 4 different states and successfully improved 12 miles of the Arizona National Scenic Trail and contributed 369 volunteer hours.
The health of our public lands is impacted by many things including habitat degradation, invasive species, and climate change. I know there are amazing people, and organizations like the TRCP, working daily to develop solutions to protect the land and wildlife. But the biggest problem I see every day within every recreationist’s control is litter and pollution. You don’t need to be a biodiversity scientist or wildlife biologist to have an immediate and positive impact on these natural ecosystems. You just need to be responsible enough to pack out your trash. Responsible recreation is everyone’s job. It is increasingly frustrating and sad to see trash left behind at every campsite, to see every forest trail littered with soda and beer cans.
It is my commitment to give back to what pulled me through the darkest moments of my life. For years, I relied on one “treatment” to deal with the mental health struggles that I faced: self-medication (alcohol abuse and dependency). In that time, I had lost my connection to nature and the peace that it brings the mind, body, and spirit. I only focused on numbing whatever pain, sadness, and stress was plaguing me and booze was the self-destructive “easy button.” With the unwavering support of my wife and a few amazing friends, I was able to rediscover how beneficial the outdoors was. Pretty simply, I realized that a sober day afield hunting, fishing, hiking, or camping simply made me feel better! Committing my renewed life to conservation and stewardship service is in the hope of sustaining this incredible resource for others who may find themselves struggling the way that I was.
The outdoors is the ultimate classroom and provides so many valuable life lessons. Whether hunting or fishing, you must be totally present and aware of your surroundings. The woods and the water teach patience, critical thinking, safety, and responsibility. As important as it is to learn these skills in austere environments, it is equally important that the next generation of hunters and anglers understand how their actions impact this invaluable natural resource. We must lead by example, knowing that one day the responsibility of caring for these special places will lie in their hands. In every wonderful memory created by an outdoor experience, the next generation’s commitment to conservation will ensure those same opportunities exist for generations to come.
In the last year, Two Wolf Foundation has organized three additional Warrior Stewardship Teams that have participated in public land stewardship and conservation projects in Utah, Idaho, and Montana in collaboration with their 2023 stewardship partner, Tread Lightly!
Learn more about the Two Wolf Foundation by visiting Two Wolf Foundation | The One You Feed
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