HEROES ON THE WATER HELP COMMANDOS HEAL
By CMSgt Frank Dailey
This past November the Hurlburt Field Chapter of the Air Commando Association partnered with the Emerald Coast Chapter of the Heroes on the Water, to provide therapeutic Kayak Fishing trips to the Air Commandos of Hurlburt Field and the local community.
Heroes on the Water (HOW) serves all military personnel who have been wounded, injured disabled or recently returning from combat. What looks like a day trip of paddling and fishing for wounded vets is in fact something much deeper and long-lasting.
There is magic in the interplay between kayak and paddle, water and fish, angler and nature. Is it the kayak’s quiet intimacy? The way nature lets you closer than you’ve ever been? It is all of these things coalescing into personal revelations that the wounds may have closed one door, but there are many other, spectacular doors to explore. Life is still good.
The program allows the participants a chance to decompress from the stresses associated with combat and the physical rigors of rehabilitation and reintegration. Participants enjoy these benefits while on guided fishing trips held at various locations around the country. One of the special projects that make the Emerald Coast Chapter unique is their focus on the resiliency of the force as well as the injured and disabled.
This year Admiral William McRaven highlighted the Preservation of the Force and Families Task Force to the senior leaders during his visit with the Air Commandos, he encouraged his leaders to find innovative solutions to increase the resiliency of the Special Operations Forces. As the AFSOC looked to institutionalize our resiliency programs, Heroes on the Water stepped up and said we are here and willing to be a part of the solution. In September, eight Air Commandos took part in their first event. The feedback was amazing, one Airman who had recently had returned had not been able to sleep since she got back. After fishing, she had her first good night’s sleep, she said, “It was as if I left all the stress out on the water.” One of our participants a TBI patient who was having trouble associating with the clinical personnel, avoided the discussions and refused to participate in the program. When he returned to the clinic he had found that he could be “normal” with the HOW team and saw it as a game changer. His progress in the program is on track and he is doing so much better.
Originally developed for patients at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) on Fort Sam Houston, the program quickly expanded to Darnall Army Medical Center on Fort Hood, TX. Due to the programs unparalleled success, chapters are operating at Madigan AMC on Fort Lewis WA, Portsmouth Naval Hospital VA, Ft Bragg NC, Camp Lejeune NC, Charleston AFB SC, Tampa and Jacksonville in Florida, the Great Lakes area, Central and Northern California, Houston, Dallas-Ft Worth, Austin, Corpus Christi in Texas, Kansas, Nebraska. New chapters are now in Central Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington DC, Pensacola, Orlando, Panama City, and the Space Coast in Florida, Missouri, the Emerald Coast in Alabama, New York, and Knoxville, TN.
The program provides basic kayak fishing instruction, angling clinics and paddling classes for participants with skill sets ranging from beginners to the most experienced paddlers. The program also assists these personnel in adapting these newly developed skills to their new abilities. Adaptive kayaks, kayaking accessories and angling equipment will be offered on an as needed basis to accommodate participants’ particular needs. The Emerald Coast Chapter supported one such former Air Commando Thomas Bailey, a paraplegic; Thomas has only limited large motor skills in his arms and shoulders, MSgt Barrett Fine and TSgt Eric Kaiser took on the challenge of not only getting Thomas in a kayak but actually getting him fishing. They modified one kayak and then developed an outrigger system to connect their kayaks to Thomas’. This gave him a freedom he had not had for 7 yrs. Fine and Kaiser embraced the Air Commando can do spirit to make it happen and the team gave Thomas a sense of normalcy.
Kayaks, PFDs, paddles, fishing gear, meals and transportation are provided free of charge to every participant. Our volunteer staff and program coordinators consist of professional educators, counselors, licensed fishing guides, wildlife and aquatic biologists, active duty military, and experienced kayak fishermen, all of whom donate their time and expertise in support of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that we serve.
All Heroes on the Water activities are 100% dependent on your tax deductible financial donations, as directed in the provisions of Section 501(c)3 of the IRS code. We are actively seeking donations of both cash and materials to fund this program, plus we’re always looking for licensed guides, property managers and camp supervisors who would like to donate the use of their facilities for our trips. If you are interested in contributing or becoming a volunteer, please send your questions to:
Emerald Coast Chapter of Heroes on the Water: CMSgt Frank Dailey, Chapter Event Coordinator
Find Us On Face Book: Emerald Coast Heroes On The Water
National Chapter: Mr Jim Dolan, CEO
Address: 101-C N. Greenville Ave #55, Allen, TX 75002