When Cody Roberson was approached about his interest in getting veterans outdoors, he had no idea about what the future would hold. Having already received notoriety as a semi-pro bass fisherman, Cody and his partners took their first group of veterans out to a private lake in Bourne, Texas, under the banner Heroes On the Water. That event set Cody on a journey that would ultimately result in two organizations that served thousands of veterans, veteran service organizations, and left in indelible mark on the world of recreational therapy.
On their second outing at the Guadalupe River, a kayaker by the name of Jim Dolan participated. Jim, like Cody, had a military background and was an avid fisherman and lover of kayaking. Jim was absolutely in love with the program and how it positively impacted veterans who were experiencing a new sense of camaraderie and peace. Cody and Jim would go on to form a friendship that became the basis for two impactful Veterans Service Organizations that would go on to serve tens of thousands of veterans and first responders over the next decade.
Veterans for Veterans
Soon after meeting Jim at the second HOW event, Cody was deployed on his second tour in Iraq and the organizations he had founded took a backseat. Throughout this deployment, Cody says Jim was persistent about contacting him to figure out a way to keep HOW alive.
“I could feel his passion for the program and I knew he really wanted to make something great out of it,” said Cody, “Jim took HOW and implemented his own ideas and turned it into what it is today. We forged a friendship when I came back from Iraq, we would have lunch and discuss ideas. We continued to work together until he passed.”
Cody and Jim shared a passion for sharing their experience in the outdoors with other veterans and service members who might be dealing with PTS, brain injuries or who may just be looking for camaraderie and a community of people who can fully understand where they’ve been and what they’ve been through. They both experienced the stress relieving and restorative effects of being on the water and continued to assist one another in their endeavors, sharing resources and growing their organizations side by side.
“ABA was growing exponentially while HOW was growing and it became clear to me that for both organizations, our mission was veterans supporting veterans,” Cody says, “Jim and I would meet at different events and introduce one another to different potential sponsors. We would send potential participants between organizations and donate equipment. It’s always been about what’s best for our veterans. I’ll always be grateful for my friendship with Jim and for what came out of it.”
This great bond is an example of the community-building bonds that are the foundations for both ABA and HOW which have blossomed into two organizations that, 15 years later, continue to provide healing for countless veterans, first responders and their families.
From Baseball to Bass Fishing
Cody grew up in Arlington, Texas in a military family. His entire family had served in major wars including his grandfather in World War II and his father in Vietnam. However, Cody was a talented athlete and was signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Braves and was eventually traded to the Cleveland Indians in the early 1990’s. His professional baseball career came to an end just as the United States came out of Desert Storm. “I felt motivated to join my family’s history,” says Cody. He enlisted in the US Army as a combat medic and eventually became a commissioned officer in 1997 upon receiving his college degree. Cody served for 23 years with (4) deployments overseas and retired in 2015.
During his graduate studies, Cody decided to write his graduate thesis that focused on the lack of rehabilitative organizations and military organizations in the outdoors geared towards helping veterans reacclimatize to everyday life after their tours had ended. Cody was well aware of the struggles that some veterans faced as a result of experiences in combat.
“The assignment was to write about a business model or concept,” Cody says, “I had just finished writing a paper on Southwest Airlines and I was looking for something that was interesting to me.”
He started doing research on the fishing industry which revealed that in the entire industry, there were no military service related programs.
Cody says, “Bass Nation had a program called Army Bass, but after contacting them they informed me that it didn’t have anything to do with the military. I researched for months and found no programs geared toward veterans or service members and decided to make that the topic of my paper. My professor pulled me to the side and told me I was onto something. He encouraged me to follow through with it.”
More Than Just “A Good Idea”
While in California, there weren’t many opportunities for bass fishing at the National Training Center. When Cody returned to Texas, he began fishing with Don Bailey who he met during the second phase of Project Warrior and Officer Basic Course and who would eventually become the Vice President of ABA. When Cody told Don about his paper and his professor’s encouraging words, Don agreed that it was a great idea and the two decided to begin tournament fishing.
Whenever they would return from tournaments, they noticed there were a lot of people within the Army Medical Department Center & School who wanted information on the results. Cody realized there was a demand for information and that other veterans were really interested in bass fishing. He used this interest to generate donations. Over time, they were able to bring $4.2M in donations to Returning Heroes Home.
“Thanks to COL (Ret) Mike Lester (Returning Heroes Home Board Member) We wrapped our Skeeter boat in the American flag. At that time we were the only & 1st boat in the industry who had ever done that. During the Fishers of Men Regional Championship in LA, during launch people lined the shores to salute the boat” Cody says, “It was amazing and when we came back, people were gathered around. So many people wanted to know who we were and what our mission was.”
What Does the Future Hold for Veterans?
ArmyBassAnglers has had widespread success going into the 11th season of their television show that aired on WFN on December 28th. It’s the number 1 military fishing show on network television and chronicles veterans and active duty military personnel as they partake in competitive fishing. Cody says he would love to see more opportunities for veterans and active service members to compete.
“There needs to be a way for veterans to fish for major outdoor sports titles,” says Cody, “Due to their deployments and service to their country, they can’t spend 7 days of the week on the water fishing, but they still have the same love and passion for the sport. There’s no elite competition series dedicated to giving these people that opportunity, thus we created the original series and competition FORCE on FORCE to give them that opportunity.”
You can check your local listings to watch ArmyBassAnglers on WFN and 2022 Force on Force – ArmyBuckHunters, 2022 Force on Force – ArmyHogHunters on the Sportsmen’s Channel. These great shows highlight veterans and service members who are passionate about outdoor sports. All of the work that Cody and the rest of his team do to create such wonderful opportunities for so many veterans to showcase their talents is commendable.
HOW is in our 14th year of service. Since 2007, we’ve served 54,445 veterans and first responders across the country, a feat that would not have been possible without the thousands of volunteers and the wonderful organizations we’ve been so lucky to partner and collaborate with throughout the years. ArmyBassAnglers is one of those organizations, and we’re so grateful for the relationship we’ve been able to build with ABA and Cody over the years.
Heroes on the Water is a 501(c)3 charity organization that introduces veterans, first responders and their families to a recreation that is therapeutic while providing a relaxing, fun experience. We introduce participants to the calming effects of being out on the water and provide tools through teaching that can be used to help cope with trauma, stress and other injuries. Click here to donate and support our community of heroes with a peaceful, recreational event that is both therapeutic and good for the soul!