What's Next? What's Next? What's Next? - Warriors & Quiet Waters
Warrior Taste Fest Tickets are Available Now |

What's Next? What's Next? What's Next?

No, that's not a typo. Those are titles for three different chapters in my life.

While the titles are the same, the meaning of each "what's next" changes from a negative question to a positive one over time.

WQW220725 103

"Hey kid, want to blow stuff up?" Heck, yes, I do!

I often wish my military service "origin story" was more patriotic. In reality, after graduating high school in Reese, Michigan, I was working a 12-hour-a-day second shift job at an auto parts manufacturer plant. I hated it and didn't know where I was going next in life. I graduated high school and knew better than to attempt college at this point.

Then, my buddy showed up one day, saying he had just enlisted in the Air Force. He also said, "You should talk to the recruiter guy." I did talk with him, and I was all in. Then the recruiter started talking about jobs and said, "Hey, kid, want to blow stuff up?" Reflecting on how many green Army men I had blown to bits with black cat firecrackers, I was all in again. "Heck yes, I do"!

WQW220725 042

After breaking the news to my parents and watching them go through different phases of shock, grief, and acceptance, I was off to basic training within two months and then on to the first phase of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) school. I will fast forward to 1991-2015. During that time, I did what most of us combat veterans do. I served, I discovered what patriotism was, I excelled as a "Bomb Disposal Dude," and I loved it. I loved my people. I moved to 10 different duty stations, deployed nine other times, and had four deployments in combat assigned to the Army (yes, an Air Force guy in combat) in Iraq and Afghanistan. I lost 20 EOD brothers and a sister and more Army brothers, did some really cool things, rose to the top 3% in rank as an E-8, achieved my Master's Degree in Homeland Security, ran my own unit, and then BAM!!!

Suddenly, it was 2015, and I was retiring from 25 years of active duty. My first "What's next"?

KENSCAR FX19 23 287

What's next? Phase 1.

It was a simple question. "What do I do next with my life post-retirement?" I thought I nailed it, and I knew the answer. Before retirement, I had submitted over 125 job applications, and three came back as "interested" in me.

One was for an Engineering Technician (Explosives and Chemical Weapons) in Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah. I, again, was all in. The kid who wanted to "blow stuff up" was getting a second chance. Months later, my wife and I were living in Dugway, Utah. I was now a "retired dude" and a GS-12 doing testing with different explosives and chemical weapons information. I thought I had it figured out. I didn't. I had trouble turning 25 years of military "life" into a civilian one. You see, at this point, I had spent over half my entire life in the military.

Eight months later, I quit the job, and we moved back to Michigan. Yes, I quit a GS-12 government job! I was having anger issues, self-approval issues, and other problems that later I would realize were the symptoms of PTSD that were not being addressed and treated. A few months later, I was dumb enough to try another Government job here in Michigan doing something completely different, working for the National Forest Service.

About two months later, I drove up the driveway in my goofy green Forestry Uniform too early to be quitting time. My wife immediately knew when she saw my face, "you quit, didn't you?" she asked. "Yes, I did", I responded. The PTSD issues were still not addressed, and I had no purpose, no goals, and no treatment. "What's next?" hit me again, this time negatively.

WQW220901 145

What's next? Phase 2.

This phase of what's next hit me. I needed to know where I would go from here. Again, I tried to solve this question by myself. I was wrong. I felt like I was failing.

Fast forward to around 2017, I was still struggling. I attended a veterans program that started to help me discover my new path in life. However, shortly after that, I found another program called Warriors & Quiet Waters (WQW). It sounded like an awesome week of fly fishing in Montana and a chance to decompress from life. I would realize in later years that it was so much more. It placed me on the path I am on now — one of positive post-traumatic growth and a defined purpose.

In 2023, I was blessed enough to be selected for the second annual Hunt for Purpose elk hunt with WQW. Again, I was short-sighted about what this program was and what it would mean for my life. After pushing through the Built for More program, I am now on my third chapter of "What's next?"

KENSCAR FX21 22 041

What's next? Phase 3-Current.

This chapter and the "what's next" question are positive ones. I am now looking for opportunity and service. Part of the Built for More program is to define your new purpose statement. I realized I didn't need to save the world anymore, build my own 501C3, assist every veteran I saw, or make millions of dollars. I needed to find peace, give myself some grace, and treat my PTSD symptoms. I would like to share my new purpose statement with you. It is to "daily find positivity in life, give and accept grace and to seize opportunity; so that I may find greater peace."

My wife and I volunteer back to WQW as much as possible, working as a mom/dad team. I am also the Midwest representative for the WQW Alumni Council, which aims to unite alums in our area with annual regional events to keep a sense of tribe.

I still struggle with PTSD at times, and I think I always will. However, I am now educated and know what treatment works for me. It will always be with me but will never define me again. I define myself by my values, goals, and purpose. None of this would be possible for me without having been selected to be "built for more" and working with the great people of WQW.

KENSCAR FX21 22 020


I often reflect on a point during our Hunt for Purpose week. My cohorts and I were discussing with CEO Brian Gilman. Our shared concern over discussions we had privately had without Brian was, "Why us"? We did the 6 of us warrant this opportunity with WQW. We all knew other veterans that we felt gave more, did more, and deserved more than we did. He answered, "You are here because you need to be, at the time you need to be here." It was all he needed to say. It now made sense.

So, if you're a post-9/11 veteran, sign up with WQW. You're built for more, and you deserve it. If you're a donor, are you wondering who you impact? Wonder no more; your impact is greater than I could ever describe; it is respected and well-used. The continued impact of your donation is immense and life-changing. We want you to be a believer in us.

If you're a WQW alumni, sign up for continued programming. Stay involved with us and continue with your Built for More lifestyle.

I thank you all very much for reading part of my story, and I thank you for your time.


Ken Ahrens, SMSgt USAF (Retired)
Explosive Ordnance Disposal (Bomb Dude)