By: Jason Austin
On 5 Oct 2007, CPL Rachel Hugo was KIA in Iraq. Five months prior, CPL Hugo saved my life after my vehicle struck two IEDs in Bayji Iraq. She was a soldier in every aspect and died doing what she loved…saving lives.
My vehicle badly damaged and me with several injuries, CPL Hugo made a difficult decision for me that I begged her not to do. I was airlifted to Germany and eventually ended up in a polytrauma center in Tampa FL. For the next 900+ days I would undergo surgeries, physical and cognitive therapy and counseling.
The next year was a blur and the Traumatic Brain Injury I received actually blanked out many of those days I laid there in pain. I remember clearly the day I received the news that CPL Hugo was killed in action. A day I still will never forget.
I struggled with my pain and the change in my life and in 2010 I was medically retired with 19 years and 6 days of service. Little did I know that the challenges just began. I was different and the friends I had didn’t know me anymore, my family was gone, and I was alone. The next logical step in my eyes was suicide.
Ready to go through with ending the physical and emotional pain, I received a phone call to go kayak fishing with an associate of Heroes on the Water. Little did I know that that phone call and the day on the water would change my life forever.
The fact that I’m writing this should be enough to let everyone know that it was a change for the best. I now drive all over the Gulf Coast competing in kayak fishing tournaments and spreading the word about Heroes On the Water.
Changing a tire is not normally dangerous . . . unless you are on the side of the road in an overseas location, run over by another vehicle, while changing the tire on a Hummer.
That’s how one of our heroes from California suffered a serious brain injury. She was in a coma for three long years. Today, she is living in Livermore, California as a functioning adult, but has virtually no short or long term memory. In other words, she could not tell you what happened last year, or earlier today. Until now.
Heroes on the Water (HOW.), arranged for our veteran friend to spend a day on the water, kayak fishing. Her recreational therapist called us three days later, extremely excited. Our HOW friend remembered going kayak fishing! Her day on the water made such a positive impact in her life that her brain decided to treasure the memory. In other words, her kayak fishing trip “cracked the shell” and allowed her to take the first, important steps forward in regaining her memory.