In honor of our 15-year anniversary, we’re interviewing individuals who have been involved with Warriors & Quiet Waters Foundation (WQW) in different capacities, some of whom have been involved since the inception of the Foundation in 2007. Today, we’re reposting a story T-Mobile shared about their efforts to support Warriors, including testimonies from two of their employees who are WQW participants.
For Paula Timmons, Director, Federal Government Affairs, representing T-Mobile as an “ambassador” of sorts with legislators, civil servants, and thought leaders across the country, has proven the truth in the phrase, “all politics are local.”
In 2019, “local” meant a Montana ski event with U.S. Senator Steve Daines, where she was “grouped with a bunch of guys in ski gear — who turned out to be wounded warriors who serve on the Board of Warriors & Quiet Waters, out for a day of skiing.”
Warriors & Quiet Waters is a catalyst for positive change for post-9/11 combat veterans and their loved ones, helping them find peace, meaning, and purpose while rekindling a love of the outdoors through fly fishing. WQW meets its mission by offering 20−30 fishing expeditions the organization calls ‘FXs’ on blue-ribbon fishing waters throughout the Bozeman, Gallatin, and Yellowstone valleys.
“When I learned about their mission, I knew I wanted T-Mobile to support their work,” Timmons said. “It made so much sense for our new Bozeman market and our commitment to Small Markets and Rural Areas, our 5G build-out in Montana, and who we are and our dedication to veterans. But also, I thought instantly of Laura.”
Thinking of Laura Linderman Barker, Director, Federal Government Affairs, isn’t unusual for Timmons. The two have a colleague history that spans not just years but employers.
“My tenure at T-Mobile began 16 years ago because of Paula,” Barker explained. “We all worked together at AT&T Wireless ages ago, and after we left, Paula reached out and said, ‘Hey, I’ve found this role at T-Mobile, it’s great, I think you’d love it here’ — and she was right.”
The specific challenges post-9/11 combat veterans face are well documented, but Barker has a first-person perspective. When she first met her husband in a line at Dulles Airport in 2007, he’d already served six tours of duty and was still serving through the Navy Reserves while working full time for the US Marshall Service. Before they met, he’d volunteered for one more tour. They were planning an official ceremony, but instead got married at the courthouse, anxious to make sure their marriage was recorded for legal reasons before the uncertainty of deployment.
“So, to quote Johnny Cash, ‘we got married in a fever,’ and the next morning, he deployed,” Barker said. Life as a military spouse or family member when a service member deploys can be unmooring and complex, especially without the community support life on base or post can offer. When a close proximity blast brought Barker’s new husband home from that tour with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and PTSD, they exchanged the struggle of separation for new complexity.
“Paula knew it had been a rough road for us,” Barker said, “and reached out to encourage me to participate in supporting the 2019 Warrior Taste Fest, a major fundraiser for WQW that involves tasting menus and an art auction, the first one T-Mobile sponsored. When I saw what they were doing, I was hooked — and I can confidently say I hope to devote time and resources to this organization for the rest of my life.”
“When I walked into the Lodge that day for the Partner Luncheon, the first two people I met were Saul Martinez and Faye Nelson. I was overcome with emotion and teared up and shared a little about my struggles. It was Faye, then the Executive Director of WQW, who said, ‘I understand who you are. You are a caretaker.’ That was the first time anyone had called me that, and it was the first step in my journey to understand the weight of what it means to care for a veteran with PTSD and TBI and also that I hadn’t processed my own trauma,” Barker said.
And stars aligned again under the big Montana sky before the event was through.
“That night, we also discovered that our very own Larry Weidinger, who heads up Montana market engineering Operations, was also involved with the organization,” Timmons said. Weidinger, Operations Manager, Inland Northwest Market, is a Sergeant Major in the National Guard with over 29 years of service and three combat deployments to the Middle East and, at that time, had spent five years as a dedicated WQW volunteer.
After years in a row of using two weeks of PTO to volunteer as a Companion or Team Leader during FXs, Weidinger received an unexpected request from Saul Martinez, WQW’s Chief Program Officer.
“He wanted to invite me to attend an FX as a Warrior instead of volunteering,” Weidinger said. “I was shocked and grateful to be considered, but I replied with the first thought that ran through my head: ‘There are so many others who need this program more than I do.’ Saul’s response was, ‘No, brother — we all need this.'”
“My reaction and hesitation are so commonplace among veterans,” he explained. “It’s ingrained in vets to think of and care for others first; that’s a big part of the reason we sign up to serve in the first place. But I can tell you from personal experience that Saul was right. We need to encourage each veteran to attend such a program because the benefits are bigger than we admit. It helps our family relationships and professional lives in ways you can only see on the other side of participation. Everyone benefits from being cared for and appreciated, and we’re all better people for increasing our networks of friends and support through a program like WQW.”
In 2019, Timmons, Barker, and Weidinger made a pact to work within their networks to expand T-Mobile’s sponsorship for the organization, but the pandemic pivot to a virtual Taste Fest in 2020 made leveling up a challenge.
At the same time, Timmons continued encouraging Barker to prioritize herself and participate in a ‘Caretaker’ FX. In April, Barker committed to making time to care for herself and go. As she shared with Jon Freier, President, Consumer Group, and Executive Sponsor of T-Mobile’s Veterans & Allies ERG, reaching out to discuss the upcoming in-person 2021 event, “The WQW Team was amazing.”
They allowed me to get much-needed rest and respite, and just took care of all of us; through beautiful home-cooked meals, guided meditation, nutrition counseling, fly fishing instruction, and genuine support through conversations around the fire in the evenings. The therapy of being in nature along with the sense of accomplishment that comes when you land that fish, and then the sense of peace when you release it, well, there’s just nothing like it.
For those few days, I reached a level of calm I hadn’t felt for years, which allowed me to gain perspective on how to take better care of myself and heal my own wounds.
“I reached a level of calm I hadn’t felt for years, which allowed me to gain perspective on how to take better care of myself and heal my own wounds.”
Laura Barker, T-Mobile Director, Federal Government Affairs and WQW Caregiver Participant
Tony Russo, VP, Government Affairs, along with the Government Affairs team, pledged their continued support. With Frier’s enthusiastic pitch-in, their mission swiftly scaled to a full-fledged team effort. Barker and Weidinger delivered addresses during the event’s luncheon, and T-Mobile’s doubled commitment to Taste Fest showed in magenta moments throughout the festival.
“I love this effort so much because it was a true cross-company collaboration,” Timmons said. “Consumer support opened up amazing resources from Stacey Perry and her team, who managed the event and kept us on target, to the truck crew under David Huynh and Bozeman store manager Dan Hodgson. We had Engineering, Marketing, trucks, social media, GA, SMRA, and local markets involved. The cross-branding was amazing, and the event brought in 200 additional door swings over the next week.”
New customers taking advantage of T-Mobile’s fresh 5G build-out in Montana were one success metric. But the partnership, initially inspired by the allyship of just a few, was a massive win for WQW, too.
“The event raised over $550,000, which will bring more wounded warriors to participate in these FXs,” Timmons said.
“And on top of our event sponsorship, T-Mobile also sponsored the last FX for the season, just ahead of Veteran’s Day. WQW wrapped their season last week with an FX to fish the amazing, serene, and hopefully therapeutic waters of western Montana, courtesy of T-Mobile.”
To celebrate our 15th Anniversary with us, please consider making a difference in the lives of the veterans we serve. Please visit our donate page to learn more.