The marshes at WaterWays Township are a perfect place to boat, fish and kayak in peace. It’s no wonder the volunteers and coordinators of Coastal Georgia’s Heroes on the Water Program decided to return to the area Saturday for the second time this year, offering service members the chance to fish, paddle and enjoy a day on the water.
The mission of Heroes on the Water is to provide injured veterans and active-duty soldiers with an experience that does more than just take them off base for a day — it gives them a chance to forget their injuries and simply paddle.
Corky Fleming, co-founder at Coastal Georgia Kayak Fishing, decided to get involved when he heard a few friends talking about the organization. Knowing the difference between siting in a boat and paddling in a kayak, Fleming said he knew he could find a way to help.
“There was a soldier who was here last time who was having some trouble,” Fleming said. “We heard back from his wife after he left, and she said that it was the first time she had seen him smile since he returned from his deployment. There are a lot of stories like that.”
The program provides kayaks, bait, tackle, fishing poles and even a hot meal to soldiers and vets that have been injured overseas.
On Saturday morning, Fleming and a handful of volunteers helped 15 soldiers push off from the banks at WaterWays. From there, they were free to paddle and fish to their hearts’ content.
Beth Jeffries, a volunteer from Fairway Independent Mortgage, was also on hand to help out. She said the difference in the soldiers’ demeanors when they arrive compared to when they leave is dramatic.
She said she was worried the organization won’t have enough resources to bring more soldiers back that want to participate.
“We’ll be doing lots of fundraisers next year,” said Jeffries. “We’re going to need more money so we can buy more boats so that we can bring even more of the wounded soldiers.”
“Right now we beg, borrow and steal from everywhere we can,” Fleming joked.
Saturday was the second time out on the water with the HOW program for William Vargas, a soldier with injuries to his back. And though he chose not to fish Saturday, he said he can’t get enough of simply paddling by himself.
“I had never kayaked before,” Vargas said of his first time in the program. “And I tried fishing last time and I just couldn’t get the hang of it, so I decided I’d just come out this time and get some exercise. Either way, it’s just so much fun.”
For more information about volunteering with Heroes on the Water or to find out how you can donate time or resources in 2014 when the program picks up again, visit www.heroesonthewater.org.