The images of heroes returning from combat is powerful. Videos all over the internet show surprise returns. There is the brother who surprises his younger sibling while reading his Who is My Hero paper (spoiler alert – it’s the brother). The video composite of dogs being reunited with their owners after deployment, wagging their tails and jumping while squealing in delight. The spouse who doesn’t know and is surprised at a party or family dinner. The children whose emotions are so big whey they see their parents they sob uncontrollably, a mixture of sheer joy and overwhelm that the wait is over. It’s emotional, bringing forth our own feelings of joy and overwhelm realizing how much we miss someone in our own lives.

Whether it’s reuniting with spouses, children, siblings or the family dog, it’s almost impossible to watch a reunification video and not shed a tear. We then move to the next social media post or video, secure in the knowledge that the reunified family is going to live happily ever after, returning to a rhythm that is simpler and easier for the recently returned veteran. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.

The truth is reintegration into civilian life is often difficult for veterans. One of our own chapter leaders described is as “going 100 miles an hour and suddenly slamming on the brakes.” It is difficult to find a civilian job that utilizes a military skillset. Not to mention the radical change of being in the brotherhood and sisterhood of folks who are there to save your life to a daily routine of what is often described as a “dog-eat-dog” world. Corporate environments are often focused on internal competition, rewarding the one who does the best. The military is focused on everyone watching out for 2the other, since their lives depend on it.

It’s difficult for civilians to comprehend the radical change a veteran must endure to reintegrate into a civilian life. And none of this touches on how to address the challenges around post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

Relax – Rehabilitate – Reintegrate

Our mission is to help warriors relax, rehabilitate and reintegrate through kayak fishing and the outdoors. There is a reason that the order begins with relax.

1). Relax – Warriors need an opportunity to decompress from the rigors of combat and to adjust to the different rhythm of civilian life.

2). Rehabilitate – It does not take long to realize that combat-related post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury symptoms require a multi-pronged treatment approach. It should go beyond medication. Utilizing the various types of alternative therapies available help both the veteran and the family member to address post-combat issues.

3). Reintegrate – this will be different for everyone. For some, it may mean getting a job or stepping into a new career. For others, it may mean volunteering with an organization that gives them a sense of purpose. It may even mean something as simple as feeling confident to leave home on a regular basis. It’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario, and should be addressed as a journey, not a step.

Heroes on the Water utilizes therapeutic kayak fishing experiences provided at no-cost to veterans, first-responders and their families as our way of supporting this journey. While proven to alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress and TBI, the kayak fishing also provides a stress-free way to interact with nature. The outings are created so that the participants feel comfortable and are able to enjoy the camaraderie of other like-minded individuals. Within the HOW Family, we see many begin their reintegration journey by becoming volunteers and eventually chapter leadership. It’s a positive experience for everyone and allows for individuals to address needs at their own pace.


There is one other component to our focus that is crucial to the continued health and wellness of our community – reunification. It’s important to address the challenges the entire family faces post-deployment. By extending the healing power of kayak fishing experiences to the family members, we improve the chance of success for the veteran while supporting the entire family on their healing journey.

We know through multiple studies that children of veterans who experience combat-related post-traumatic stress are likely to display the same symptoms. Spouses also experience stress and the entire family can struggle. This places even more pressure on the veteran and creates a vicious circle of behavior that can be difficult to overcome.

Our initiative, Reunify Family is focused on providing the non-traditional therapy of kayak fishing and the outdoors to the entire family. Studies have proven that kayak fishing and outdoor recreational therapy are able to alleviate PTS and TBI symptoms, provide an environment that promotes healing and allow for non-stressful communication.

Make this a great year to PADDLE. FISH. HEAL. Donate today and become part of the HOW Family!



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