As I worked on setting up my booth at the recent Central Texas Boat Show at the Bell
County Expo Center on the day prior to the show’s opening, a fellow began setting up his own booth next to me.
The centerpiece of that booth was the single most decked out fishing kayak I believe I have ever seen. Being about ready for a little break from my labors, I walked over and introduced myself to Robert Gregory, the events coordinator for the Fort Hood chapter of Heroes on the Water.
HOW is a bona fide 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with 87 chapters nationwide, eight of which are here in Texas.
The organization’s mission is to help warriors relax, rehabilitate and reintegrate through kayak fishing and the outdoors. Their motto is: Paddle. Fish. Heal.
Locally, HOW coordinates multiple annual events on nearby bodies of water to allow both service members and first responders, as well as their families, to have a chance at paddling their way to catch fish and enjoy the fellowship of others with lke interests.
According to Frank Aguilar, the Fort Hood Chapter Coordinator, his chapter has, over the span of three seasons, put approximately 430 individuals on the water in a fishing kayak. Nationally, HOW has helped over 38,000 individuals.
Heroes on the Water was conceived over 10 years ago by U.S. Air Force officer Jim Dolan and his wife when the two recognized the therapeutic benefits of paddling quietly to a fishing destination.
The quiet solitude of kayaking and fishing is a stress-reducer which also reduces the hypervigilance and avoidance behaviors seen in those dealing with post-traumatic stress, according to an 18-month study conducted by Troy University.
HOW leadership sees the need to provide such opportunities as urgent for a number of reasons. First, traumatic injuries now outnumber deaths as a result of modern medical advances.
Next, Global War on Terror warriors serve an average of 45 months in combat compared to 15 months for Vietnam War veterans and seven months for World War II veterans. Finally, 300,000-plus warriors have post-traumatic stress disorder; 320,000-plus have traumatic brain injury and over 31,000 have visible wounds, all according to a 2009 Rand Study.
Thanks to HOW’s hard work and results, it has attracted a number of notable corporate partners.
Locally, the Fort Hood HOW chapter has been aided by Sam’s Club, All-American Chevrolet, Home Depot, the Harker Heights Lions Club and others.
The backbone of HOW is its “event guides” which are volunteers — nearly 25,000 of them — most with some expertise in both kayaking and fishing, who are willing to spend some time on the water with warriors and first responders to help put them at ease and make them successful. Other volunteers focus on event planning, food coordination and chapter administration, all to make for memorable times in the outdoors for those they serve.
Josh (last name withheld) said of his HOW experience: “I had never been in a kayak and didn’t know anything about them. After only two outings with HOW, I’ve found the camaraderie and knowledge is amazing and second to none.
“From the basics of how to get in the kayak to the advanced breathing and paddling techniques, everyone has something to share. Heroes on the Water gives veterans a simple way to get back to nature, regardless of the injury. There’s no pressure to do anything but relax and enjoy nature. HOW gives us happy and positive events to look forward to and plan.”
Those interested in HOW, either as a volunteer or as an event participant may contact Aguilar, a veteran and Copperas Cove resident, at 254-630-6440 or at Ft.HoodTx@HeroesOnTheWater.org.