Celebrating the comforts of the American Great Outdoors
Heroes on the Water helps heroes relax and reconnect through kayak fishing and the outdoors. Our mission aligns with our partner, Southern Comfort®, in a natural way. Recently the team at Southern Comfort caught up with our own Jason Austin to discuss the benefit of the outdoors, and how our organizations have common interests. Read on to learn more.
An iconic American brand since 1874, Southern Comfort has long celebrated the comforts of the American Great Outdoors. Now, Southern Comfort is raising a glass to veterans, first responders and their families with a limited-edition Americana bottle, and a donation in support of Heroes on the Water’s outdoor wellness programs.
We recently interviewed SFC Jason Austin, Army (ret.) who is a long-time HOW participant, advocate and currently works as an Area Coordinator for the organization. Jason has a unique perspective on how the outdoors and HOW specifically can benefit veterans.
Q: How did you first get involved with HOW?
A: The organization actually saved my life. The phone rang and for some reason, I decided that maybe I needed to pick it up. The voice on the other side said, “Hey, what are you doing tomorrow?” I didn’t have plans for tomorrow, but he invited me to meet him at a boat launch to go kayak fishing. I said, “Well, okay.” That was the start of the rest of my life.
Q: What made that first experience so impactful?
A: I was a little nervous about going. Nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to do it physically. Trust issues, actually taking that step to trust somebody that I didn’t know that was just there trying to help. I got to put all the noise in my head aside and concentrate on something that I actually enjoyed doing, whether I was successful or not. It changed my perspective completely that day. I wanted to live another day to get back out on the water and enjoy what I enjoyed the day before. But maybe next time catch a fish.
Q: Have you always been an outdoorsman?
A: I grew up hunting and fishing, and when I got into the military, I think I lost a lot of that because we spent a lot of time outdoors already. At that point you want to clean up and spend some time indoors
Q: Can you tell us about your life in uniform?
A: I was a career MP. I got to do a lot of cool things in some pretty cool places. Then I was deployed to Iraq for my second tour. In April 13th of 2007, I was in a vehicle and we struck two roadside bombs. For the next 900 days, I was in hospitals and community-based healthcare, a few surgeries later, a whole lot of therapy, both physical and mental. They retired me in December of 2010 and pretty much sent me packing.
Q: What is it about the Great Outdoors that makes it so welcoming?
A: There are so many beautiful things that nature has to offer, and you can’t see it from sitting inside on a couch. There’s no pressure. No white noise constantly around you. And there’s that camaraderie. We’re all equal out there. It doesn’t matter physically or mentally what you’re suffering from. The age range is the newer veterans all the way to the Vietnam veterans. It’s from every race, religion, ethnic background. The great outdoors is the greatest equalizer for sure.
Q: Why do you think Southern Comfort is a good partner for HOW?
A: Well, Southern Comfort has that American heritage. The name’s legendary. I especially feel closer to it being down here in New Orleans. I think we share a lot of the same passions when it comes to being outdoors and doing good things. The fact that a company like Southern Comfort® stepped up and took the time to even be interested in Heroes on the Water says a lot about who they are and what they’re passionate about.
Q: And now you’re that guy on the other end of the line?
A: That was my entire mission when I got involved. I wanted to tell the world. I wanted to reach every veteran I could who’s sitting inside, who knows that it is possible to have a better life for themselves. You’re never alone.
Q: How do you make someone feel welcome?
A: A lot of times you just go up and introduce yourself, ask them how they are, how they’re doing, who they are, where they’re from. Just be human. Show that you care. That’s all I can do.
Q: How can Southern Comfort fans get involved in HOW?
A: Of course, veterans, first responders and their family members are all welcome to the outings and it’s completely free of charge to them. The only thing they need to bring is themselves and a good attitude. Even if they come with a bad attitude, they’ll have a good one when they leave. We’ll issue them one. If you want to do more, we always need volunteers. If you’re motivated enough and want to actually start your own chapter, we always welcome that. We are an all-volunteer force. And for the other people that don’t have the time might just want to donate some money. We’re all about it.
Heroes on the Water and Southern Comfort hope to inspire everyone to go find themselves in the Great Outdoors – and even better, to extend a welcome to someone to join them. If you’d like to support veterans, first responders, and their families on their wellness journeys, please follow this link.