Heroes on the Water (HOW) exists to help warriors and veterans unwind and reconnect on their journey home. Volunteers across the country have stepped forward to serve our nation’s Heroes and their families by providing the HOW kayak fishing program in their local area.
Over the past 6 ½ years, the HOW program has expanded into 25 states within the United States, as well as in Australia and the United Kingdom. Since the beginning of 2014, HOW has received numerous inquiries from individuals and groups interested in bringing the program to the warriors in their community. Growth is expected to accelerate.
As new chapters form, they seek funding and kayak fishing gear to get the program running. Chapter leaders that have been through the start-up mode and are now fully functioning understand the challenges.
“We now have chapters helping chapters get started” says founder, Jim Dolan. “At our recent 2014 HOW Training Conference, Chris Thomas, chapter coordinator of the HOW – Indiana Chapter, presented $1,000 to Adam Dresden, chapter coordinator for the new HOW – Heartland Chapter in Nebraska. How awesome is that.” Adam and the leaders were surprised and grateful for the support which expedites their ability to help wounded warriors de-stress through kayak fishing.
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.
Written by Jonathan Mueller, Volunteer, HOW New Jersey Chapter
There is something so peaceful about the water. The soft rocking of my kayak, like that of a baby’s cradle, soothing me, calming me. Nothing else matters at that moment, not the pressures of my job, not the weight of my bills. For the moment, I’m one with my kayak and my fishing rod. The rhythmic swell, coupled with my concentration on working the lure, has put me in a trance. My stress has melted away. All I can hear is the soft slapping of the water against the side of my kayak and some birds chirping in the distance. You know what I’m describing. That’s why you are holding this article. You’ve felt it too. And like me, you’ve tried to explain the feeling to many others. You have even gotten some friends to go out for a paddle with you and now they understand it as well.