Juan De La Garza’s journey is one of service, determination, and finding a sense of belonging. Born in California but raised in South Texas, Juan’s life took him on a path of military service, civilian work, and eventually, to a profound connection with Heroes on the Water (HOW), a program that would change his life in ways he never imagined.

A Journey of Service

“Raised in Brownsville, Texas, I found myself drawn to service from a young age,” begins Juan. It was in high school where Juan’s journey with the military began, joining the JROTC program and later enlisting in the Texas Army National Guard. His path led him through various deployments, including Desert Shield/Desert Storm and assignments in Germany, Kuwait, and Korea.

However, it was after leaving the military that Juan faced a new set of challenges. “I earned my license in Armed Security Enforcement and Private Investigations, but I felt something was missing,” he shares. “I missed the teamwork, brotherhood, and sense of purpose that defined my military service.”

In 1998, Juan decided to pursue a different path, enrolling in Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he completed a certification program in Non-Destructive Testing. Despite his civilian pursuits, Juan remained connected to service, assisting the Tulsa Police Department as a translator during graveyard shifts.

Discovering Heroes on the Water

In 2004, Juan reenlisted in the Army Reserve, serving as a supply sergeant in a drill sergeant training unit. His journey eventually led him to a role in the Plans section of the 75th Training Command, where he assisted in deployment operations and retired honorably in 2017 after over two decades of combined military service.

It was during this transition to civilian life that Juan discovered Heroes on the Water. “A friend introduced me to the program, knowing I was a veteran,” he recalls. “Attending my first event, I found it incredibly therapeutic and reconnected with other veterans in a way I had missed.”

For Juan, the program wasn’t just about kayaking or fishing; it was about rebuilding trust and finding camaraderie. “A big challenge for me was trusting anyone regardless of origin,” he admits. “But through numerous events, I began to connect more often and understand that I was not alone in facing life’s struggles.”

Finding Camaraderie

One of the most significant moments in Juan’s journey with HOW was when he was able to help a fellow veteran in need. “Being able to make a positive difference in someone’s life means a lot to me,” he shares. “It reminded me of the power of connection and support.”

Through his involvement with HOW, Juan has learned valuable lessons about the importance of reaching out for help and the value of life. “There are plenty of veteran programs available, and we just need to reach out,” he emphasizes. “This program helped me trust others and realize that life is worth it.”

Looking ahead, Juan is eager to continue his involvement with HOW, serving as a volunteer and veteran liaison for the Rio Grande Valley Chapter in South Texas. “PADDLE. FISH. HEAL.” he says, echoing the program’s motto. “If we are not there for each other, we have failed as veterans.”

In sharing his story, Juan hopes to inspire others to embrace programs like HOW and find healing, purpose, and a sense of belonging. “To anyone interested in the program, I would say, be open-minded and know that you are not alone,” he advises. “We are here for each other, and together, we can navigate life’s challenges and find strength in our shared experiences.”

Support veterans and first responders in finding a sense of belonging.

  1. Fred March 22, 2024 at 8:33 am - Reply

    I think Tony took that Picture, if not, it was me. ALWAYS a blast getting together. Hooah bro, see you soon!

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