Heroes On The Water

"A Veteran - whether active duty, retired, National Guard or reserve - is someone who at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America, for an amount of 'up to and including my life.' That is honor, and there are way too many people in this country who no longer understand it."
        ~ Author Unknown

One of the many benefits of living where I do is that it makes going to SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida a relatively short trip. Therefore, I go as often as possible. If you're going to visit SeaWorld, it's mandatory that you attend at least one of the Shamu shows. When we started going to SeaWorld in 2000, the Shamu show was merely a trained animal show. September 11, 2001 changed our nation and the format of that show, probably forever. Since then, the show starts off with a salute to anyone in the armed forces, retired, or active, as well as their families. Those being acknowledged are asked to stand for a round of well deserved applause. Over the years, I've seen the numbers of those standing continually increase. That's bad. I've also witnessed that the round of applause is steadily growing longer and louder. That's very good.

As I look at my granddaughter I often tell my daughter "look what you did", because I'm certainly proud of that accomplishment. As I look across Shamu stadium, crowd cheering and applauding, with old glory waving on the big screens, I sincerely hope that those standing see the pixilated flag of freedom and are also proud of what they have done, because I certainly am.

Unfortunately, the choreographed routines of behaviorally modified orcas soon take us far away from that bittersweet moment. That's necessary as well, more so for those standing than for the rest of us. But we all need to remember that freedom isn't free, and despite the fact that the government is writing some hefty checks these days, that some citizens are writing even larger notes.

So with all that being said, let me get down off of my soapbox and introduce you to an organization that is making great strides concerning repayment to some very deserving people.

As I browse the paddle fishing forums all over the world, I stumbled across an interesting thread on one of the Texas sites concerning "Heroes On The Water", and one of their recent outings. After reading about the activities leading up to the event, the event itself, and the smiles that resulted, I knew that I wanted to get involved, somehow.

The quest for information started with an e-mail sent to the guy that appeared to be the head honcho, Jim Dolan. I simply asked for more information, and asked how I could get involved. First order of business is to understand what their mission is:

"... Heroes on the Water is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active duty personnel and veterans through kayak fishing. In the fulfillment of this mission, HOW works with active duty personnel and veterans in military hospitals, Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals, and Warrior Transition Units (WTU's) nationwide. Our activities are closely coordinated with military and hospital staff, and all services are provided without cost. HOW programs include active duty, reservist, guard and veterans of all conflicts, and disabilities of all types..."

"Heroes On The Water" is a subset of KASA - The Kayak Anglers Society of America (a non-profit organization). KASA works through its programs designed to increase access to and participation in kayak angling throughout the United States. More information about KASA and Heroes On The Water can be found at: www.HeroesOnTheWater.org

Jim quickly supplied me with a wealth of info about this organization. Successful events have already been conducted in Texas and Georgia, to name a few.

As I spoke further with Jim Dolan, he stated that the success of the program revolves around the 3 "tent poles" that hold up the program.

POLE #1 - Independence:
We all know what a liberating feeling we get when we ease away from the shore in our own vessel, under our own power, free to go wherever we want. Being on land imposes restrictions on all of us, regardless of our circumstances. But being on the water is the great equalizer. Of course, anyone that is new to the sport will need some training and certain safety precautions will need to be stressed. Once that's behind them, the next thing is to go get wet.

POLE #2 - Support:
Paddle anglers have often referred to themselves as a "band of brothers". In some ways it's a biker analogy, where the open road is replaced with open waters, free to go wherever you desire, but always knowing that your fellow paddlers will be there when you need them. The same mentality is certainly present with those affiliated with the military.

Captain Scott Null wrote a great article concerning his affiliation with Heroes On The Water, and how paddle anglers (much like those in the military and in law enforcement) are a band of brothers. Please take a moment to read it: http://www.texassaltwaterfishingmagazine.com/

There is always safety in numbers. Camaraderie is often a welcome by-catch.

POLE #3 - Rehabilitation:
"Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after" a quote by Thoreau is something that I firmly believe in. The 3rd tent pole concerns the soldiers of OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) and OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom). These are young, energetic, resourceful individuals. And, they would much rather be out living rather than hanging around a VFW reliving memories (good and bad). In this case, the "rehabilitation" is nothing more than getting access to a new sport, a new means of exercise, a new opportunity to grab a larger piece of life. As paddle anglers, we all seek to do this now. And, as we all have learned, fishing is often only a tiny part of our sport.

If a picture speaks a thousand words, then this is my cue to shut up for a moment.

Once soldiers are no longer active, in too many cases they are no longer in touch with their support organizations. So, if you know of an injured vet that likes to fish, simply point them toward Heroes On The Water. If you'd like to be a part of this effort, start by contacting Jim Dolan.

Jim Dolan National Director - Heroes on the Water
Kayak Anglers Society of America
101-C North Greenville Ave. #55
Allen, TX 75002-2200
phone: 214-295-4541

I would love to get an e-mail back from Jim stating that their phones are ringing off the hook, and their web server is being pummeled with inquiries.

As a brotherhood of paddle anglers we can do some great things and collectively make some significant contributions. I am still digesting the information Jim sent me, as well as evaluating what level of support I can commit to. I do know that as with any other charitable effort, any level of support is valuable, the greatest gift you can give is your own time, and that any step forward is the first step of progress.

When we celebrate the Memorial Day and Independence Day, there will be fireworks, grilled food, and lots of seasonal flag waving. We all deserve to pause for a bit and celebrate who we are. Damn right we do. But for me, this is a reminder that great things often come at a price. I want to do more than clap loudly at SeaWorld to show my appreciation to our wounded vets. They made sacrifices to ensure my quality of life, and I feel compelled to return the favor in some way. How about you?

See you out on the water!

"Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after"
~ Henry David Thoreau

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