We received the following anonymous letter from one of our warrior’s. Her story is powerful and captures the essence of the impact our outings have on those who participate.
Whether a Veteran of the United States Armed Forces served in wartime or peacetime, overseas, or solely in the United States, one never knows by looking at her what she’s been through.
I served during a time of peace, I never saw real combat, but still, I had some experiences during my tour of duty that left lasting impressions upon my soul, some of which were anything but pleasant. Emotionally damaging military experiences… whether brought on by my own stupidity and bad choices as a very young, very naïve teenager leaving home for the first time, or perhaps occurring because of a predator-type individual who may have been in a position of authority looking to take advantage of that innocence… changed me. By the time I exited the military, I felt a good deal of shame and faulted myself for many things, even some things that I now know were not my fault.
For decades after leaving the military, I continued to be timid, I let people walk all over me, I was always worried, scared to trust anyone or to share my own opinions or feelings. I was insecure about every decision I made, I was frightened of my own shadow.
Then, like an answered prayer, Heroes on the Water (HOW) entered my life. I cannot thank the organization and all of its volunteers enough for what they do. In the year I have been participating, I have grown stronger, more confident, less critical of myself, and better able to form lasting relationships where I’m able to express my feelings without fear. I’ve even lost a little of that excess weight I’ve been trying to get rid of… all while doing something fun.
How in the world does paddling the water and catching fish in a kayak do all that for a person? I don’t really know for sure, but I am pretty sure it’s not JUST the kayak, the water, the fishing gear, and the fish. I have never been a part of something as profound as HOW, and the people who volunteer their time to this great organization.
I have never felt so safe, so connected, so loved by others who do not want or ask for anything from me in return. The kind of peace that HOW has gifted me is priceless – a wounded young person who lives in a grownup’s body is, decades later, beginning to heal. Amazingly, this healing is finally happening without drugs, without alcohol, and without extensive and expensive therapy while seated uncomfortably on some stranger’s couch.
I’m certainly no hero to anyone, but the HOW organization, its cadre of staff members and best volunteers ever, and all of their corporate and private sponsors are Heroes to me. Thank you Heroes on the Water – you have changed my soul, and this time it’s a glorious change for the good.
My first experience with a HOW event, I didn’t know what to expect. There was no “briefing” only two rules (no alcohol and wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) while in the kayak) those rules were just as much for us, the assistants, as they were for the soldiers. The PFD is a given and soldiers understand the importance of proper gear. Yes this was supposed to be a fun and relaxing outing but safety is number one and not only are there specific requirements for anyone on the water but alcohol just adds an element no one is equipped to deal with at this point in a soldier’s recovery.
Do we ask questions or be careful of what we say… no sudden movements or loud noises? I had questions mostly because I didn’t want to inadvertently do or say something to upset any of the soldiers. I also had concerns… will there be outbursts or fits of rage, crying spells or tense situations? Who will help us if something like that happens? Do we cater to them or let them make mistakes on their own… eating and going to the restroom? I wanted to be prepared but there wasn’t a manual. No hard and fast dos and don’ts, no how-tos just plenty of reassurance that it will be fine and you will figure it out as you go and I did. I’m now writing this for the next person that gets themselves into this wonderful and worthy group, for the person that wants to get involved but isn’t sure if they can handle it or if they are the right person for something like this. Let me just say if you can be a friend then you can do this and it means so much to these brave souls and their brethren.