MISSOULA – University of Montana student and Afghanistan war veteran Tristan Persico will be honored at the White House on Tuesday, March 18, with a Champions of Change award for his work conserving Montana wilderness and helping his fellow veterans readjust to civilian life.
The awards honor 14 individuals who through innovative approaches create opportunities for the next generation of Americans to take part in outdoor recreation and public lands conservation.
Persico, a graduate of Missoula’s Sentinel High School, is a full-time student studying parks, tourism and recreation management in the UM College of Forestry and Conservation. He also leads the Montana Wilderness Association’s Veterans Outreach Program, which helps veterans return to civilian life through outdoor experiences.
Working with MWA, Persico leads hiking and service trips into wilderness areas for small groups of returning combat veterans. He said the peace and freedom of wilderness can help vets ease the often-difficult transition from the war zone to civilian life.
Persico served as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician for the U.S. Air Force from 2005 to 2011 and lost some close friends in the line of duty.
“While I was in Afghanistan, I longed for the peace and beauty of Montana’s wilderness,” Persico said. “When I returned home to Montana, I was lost and devastated. The only place I could find peace was in the wilderness.”
Working with MWA NexGen Wilderness Leaders Program Coordinator Zack Porter, Persico leads backcountry trips, stewardship projects and educational opportunities for veterans. These excursions give returning veterans the opportunity to meet peers who often share similar experiences and challenges.
MWA member and Korean War veteran Lex Blood noted that returning war veterans have long held leadership roles in the conservation movement, dating back to the “greatest generation” of veterans who returned from World War II and helped pass the Wilderness Act.
“It’s often been said that nature and wilderness are a healing medicine for the soul,” Blood said. “As a conservationist and a Marine, I’m proud of young people like Tristan who have served America overseas and are now serving Americans back at home as well.”
Persico lives in Missoula with his wife, Lindsay, and children Briger and Quincy. He has several hikes for veterans planned for this summer and invites interested veterans to visit http://www.wildmontana.org, call him at 406-552-8431 or call Porter at 406-823-0695.
Photo: Tristan Persico