“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 colleague 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 act of allyship.
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 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.
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. She says they asked if she thought T-Mobile might be interested in learning more about 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.”
“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.
“Unfortunately, when he left for his seventh and last deployment, 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, and though she was struggling, they just kept moving forward working and caring for their two daughters.
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 part of Montana where the organization is located was a rural area in need of better connectivity and the two were able to get approval to have T-Mobile sponsor the Warrior Taste Fest to continue its work of supporting veterans.
“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.
Laura says when she arrived in Montana to visit the organization with Paula, she was surprised to hear they were beginning to work on a caregiver-focused fishing expedition program. Emily Sather, Chief Development Officer at Warriors & Quiet Waters, asked if Laura would be interested in applying.
“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.
“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 returned from that trip excited to do more for the organization so, she decided to write a letter directly to Jon Freier, T-Mobile’s President of Consumer Group and an avid supporter of the company’s Veterans and Allies Network employee resource group. She told her story and was immediately given the support she requested to have T-Mobile to become a lead corporate sponsor for their next Warrior Taste Fest fundraiser.
Members of Warriors & Quiet Waters say the attention that they were able to bring to their biggest event was invaluable back then in 2021. Committed to supporting service members and military spouses, T-Mobile has renewed its lead corporate sponsorship every year since, including most recently for the next Warrior Taste Fest in September 2023.
This year the organization is creating a new program called Built For More, which invites six to eight veterans to not only participate in their foundational outdoor events in Montana, but also stay connected for a year long journey that includes life coaches and mentors to help their transition to civilian life with their families. It’s a program Laura says her husband Drew will be participating in.
“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 oftentimes 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.”
Recently chosen to continue an additional nine years as its primary wireless provider, T-Mobile is proud to be deploying up to 50,000 wireless lines for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare professionals — including doctors, nurses, social workers and crisis hotline staff — so they can stay connected to the millions of veterans they serve.