“I’m often asked how we got connected with Warriors & Quiet Waters,” says Paula Timmons, a T-Mobile director of Government Affairs in Washington, D.C., with a smile. “I guess that would start with me. In the back of my head, I kept thinking of my friend Laura and her husband Drew. Laura and I have been close friends for almost 20 years and over that time, watching her with Drew, I knew I wanted to be an ally for her — be a better friend for her.”
Our story begins here, with this simple thought from an ally. This small but mighty space held for allyship led to a path that’s connected three people to a cause, as well as a commitment to each other, that they never could have expected.
Paula says in her role she sees herself as an ambassador for T-Mobile, sharing its policies and values with policymakers on Capitol Hill. She says as the daughter of a Navy Captain and the sister of a brother who served in the military, she found herself focusing on Veterans Affairs and the work the company was doing to serve its veteran employees and community.
Paula says she was working on a project to find underserved rural markets in need of the benefits of fast and reliable connectivity, when she met officials from the state of Montana. She was invited to represent T-Mobile at an event with Montana Senator Steve Daines. While there, she struck up a conversation with a few men who said they were on the board of an organization called Warriors & Quiet Waters.
“I learned they were all veterans who suffered from some kind of PTSD,” says Paula. “One of them even brought a service dog to lunch that day.”
She says they described their mission at Warriors & Quiet Waters as helping post-9/11 combat veterans and their families thrive by building a support system and sense of community through outdoor excursions like fly fishing. Sensing that Paula was really interested in their work, she says they asked if she thought T-Mobile might be interested in learning more and sponsoring one of the biggest events they were planning that year, called the Warrior Taste Fest.
“I knew right away I wanted T-Mobile to be part of this event in our new Bozeman Montana market,” says Paula, “but I found myself constantly thinking about my friend Laura. Knowing she was an avid fly fisher and knowing what she had been going through with her husband Andrew, I just felt like I needed to make that connection.”
A Military Spouse
“In the words of Johnny Cash, we got married in a fever,” laughs Laura Linderman Barker, a senior director on the Government Affairs team at T-Mobile.
Laura says she met her husband Andrew when he was doing reserve duty in the Navy and working with the Department of Justice. They fell in love quickly — then married quickly — because he was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan. They got hitched in San Diego in 2008, and a day later he began his seventh deployment. It was always meant to be his last, but not for the reasons that came to be.
“Unfortunately, when he was there, Andrew was in close proximity to a blast and suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury,” says Laura. “TBIs are complicated. I had no idea what it meant to be a military wife. I was someone who always planned everything and felt in control, but then became someone who never felt so emotionally vulnerable. And I deeply missed my husband.”
Laura says she had no concept of what to expect of supporting a navy veteran reintegrating into civilian life but they just kept moving forward as life took over. They were busy working and raising their two daughters. While on the outside they may have looked like any other family, Laura says in no uncertain terms they were struggling with very complex issues at home and she felt overwhelmed.
When Paula first mentioned her chance encounter with the board members she met from Warrior & Quiet Waters, she says she saw it as a wonderful opportunity for T-Mobile. The company could sponsor the Warrior Taste Fest to continue its work of supporting veterans, and the part of Montana where the organization is located was a rural area in need of better connectivity.
“Our boss Tony Russo, VP of Government Affairs, saw an obvious alignment with the brand's values," says Paula, "but he too saw Laura struggling and once I pitched it to him, he said he would support the sponsorship — so Laura and I headed to Montana to represent T-Mobile.”
Laura says when they arrived and she shared her personal story with some of the staff at Warriors & Quiet Waters, someone referred to her as a caregiver and it was the first time she had ever even thought of herself that way. It’s no surprise that members of the organization saw Laura for exactly who she was, as Warriors & Quiet Waters was beginning to work on a caregiver focused fishing expedition program.
“I admit when I first heard of Warriors & Quiet Waters, I immediately thought I need to get my husband involved in this and it kind of went over my head that I should apply as well,” she says.
Paula told Emily Sather, Chief Development Officer at Warriors & Quiet Waters, about how impacted Laura was by the Warriors Taste Fest and Emily asked if Laura would be interested in applying to their new program. She immediately called Laura.
“I think Laura for the first time felt that she found a community that understood who she was and what she was going through — she was a caregiver”, says Paula. “And the opportunity to take advantage of this new-found community through fly fishing came at the perfect time with what Laura was going through. I saw her struggling and I needed to help her put one foot in front of the other.”
Once again, Laura says it was her ally Paula who pushed her to see that she, too was, deserving of care.
“I had been going through a particularly rough period at home, and I just remember after that conversation with Paula, I submitted my application,” says Laura. “A total of six people are chosen for their caregiver fishing expeditions and I feel grateful I was chosen last year. My takeaway is that I’m of no value to my husband and family if I’m not taking care of myself. And this program reminds people to stop and energize and refuel because you’re going back to a situation that requires your energy and if you don’t ever recharge it can be a recipe for disaster. It reminded me to not just focus on what it is to have my most basic needs met, but to challenge me to pursue a life of purpose.”
“Laura is someone who always wants to do what’s right,” says Emily, “and it’s an honor to partner with someone who is not only service-oriented but also brings her own personal experience of being a military caregiver and the challenges and opportunities therein.”
Laura returned from that trip excited to do more for the organization, but says attending that first Warrior Taste Fest was monumental thanks to one chance encounter.
“That’s when we met Larry,” she explains.
“I am one month away from retiring after almost 30 years of service with the Washington Army National Guard, and even right now Warriors & Quiet Warriors is helping me with such a big transition,” says Larry Weidinger, a T-Mobile Operations Manager in Montana.
A chance sighting of pamphlets for the organization back in 2014 led Larry to ask some questions about what exactly they did on these outdoor expeditions that was so special. Fast forward more than eight years later, and Larry has become a staple figure with the non-profit. He says his volunteer work as a companion to help other soldiers struggling after service was something he believes is part of his purpose.
“It’s just something I knew I needed to do as much as I can for the rest of my life,” says Larry.
“Larry never wanted the spotlight to be on himself,” says Emily, “and even though he qualified, he always had a mindset of service.”
Larry’s qualifications are staggering when you ask him to list out his life of service. In the Army for almost three decades, he was deployed to the Middle East three times and to seven different countries, including Iraq. He only recently decided to retire from his role as a senior non-commissioned officer and command sergeant major in a military intelligence battalion.
“I never wanted to take another veteran’s spot who might need it more than myself,” he explains.
When he was invited to join a fishing experience as a recipient himself, he says it was hard for him to allow others to care for him, but also necessary.
“I realized after getting married and having a baby and moving out of my command sergeant major role, that I also have a purpose to take care of myself,” he says. “What this program has done to help me is really amazing.”
“Our CEO Brian Gilman often talks about why veteran reintegration is hard after getting out of the military,” says Emily. “We are not about just focusing on the challenges, but also the solution and how we can help veterans find peace, meaning and purpose, and to pursue that purpose with passion.”
Larry says he always wanted to find a way to coordinate T-Mobile support for the organization that had given him so much beyond the work he was doing to bring more coverage to their area, but he says he just didn’t know how. So, when he walked into a partner’s lunch at the first Warrior Taste Fest and met Laura and Paula for the first time, accompanied by so much T-Mobile magenta, he was floored.
“He kept asking us how we got T-Mobile in Montana to do all this,” says Paula. “It felt like this perfect storm because Larry had been building out the network in that area as a market engineer and was so passionate about Warriors & Quiet Waters. He had so much insight and we made a pact after that event that we were going to do all we could to make sure this wasn’t a one-time thing.”
So, Laura decided to write a letter directly to Jon Freier, T-Mobile’s President of Consumer Group and the executive sponsor of the company’s Veterans and Allies Network employee resource group. She says she pulled all three of their personal stories together and explained what this organization is doing not just for her personally, but for so many others who have served, including Larry. She asked that he consider allowing T-Mobile to become a lead corporate sponsor for their next Warrior Taste Fest fundraiser.
“I’m so proud of the way T-Mobile supports our employee veterans and the veteran community at large,” she wrote. “Our work matters and aligns so beautifully with WQW’s mission.”
She sent the email on a Friday. By that following Monday she had a response.
“I ENTHUSIASTICALLY and FULLY support!” Jon Freier wrote. “Big thanks, Laura, for bringing this great organization to my attention.”
Laura says his commitment turned out to be more than just the funds.
“He blew us away by identifying countless resources throughout the company that we could work with to take our support of their event to the max,” explains Laura.
Members of Warriors & Quiet Waters say the attention that they were able to bring to their biggest event was invaluable, and the support they gave to ensure it was a success will never be forgotten. And thanks to these three T-Mobile employees advocating for the non-profit, Jon has once again approved the company’s lead corporate sponsorship for next Warrior Taste Fest in August 2022.
“It’s not just about helping veterans to survive,” ultimately, says Laura, “it’s how do we get them to thrive? And it’s in that thrive that you come to a self-actualization or a life of purpose. And I know this to be particularly important in the lives of a veteran family. For the veteran caregiver or the children, it’s important because so much effort often goes into helping the veteran succeed, and often times you forget to make sure you’re succeeding. And my participation in this program reminded me of the importance of thinking about challenging yourself to a greater life of purpose, because that’s when you see veterans and their families thriving, and that is the goal of Warriors & Quiet Waters.”
When you ask Larry to think about how this all came together the way it did, he will interrupt to remind you how it all started with an ally.
“I know that Paula was the catalyst for this by making the connection after her encounter with the board members from Warriors & Quiet Waters,” he says. “And through that I got to meet her and Laura, who has become a true friend. We know we can always call each other and be there for each other. And it’s because of this chance encounter of ours that T-Mobile has benefitted and so have those we serve at Warriors & Quiet Waters.”