Illinois based non-profit, HOOAH, was organized by two longtime friends and veterans looking to give back to wounded soldiers through the great outdoors and good old fashioned camaraderie. The groups main function is through facilitating hunting and fishing trips for disabled vets, however, these trips are just a small part of what HOOAH stands for.
The program is designed to give veterans a place to decompress and connect with with others in similar situations. Volunteers never ask about the situations the vets may be in and never intentionally prod about past war-stories. Everything is provided by HOOAH including the costs for airfare, lodging, and equipment. All the participants have to do is apply, which is the hardest part according to Co-founder Tom Huffington. “The worst part is (choosing) who goes and doesn’t go, because they all deserve it,” he said. “That’s the tough part.” All veterans are eligible to apply.
HOOAH has also been able to engage veterans with some of the most debilitating injuries thanks to their highly adaptive equipment. The use of action track chairs and self-reeling fishing rods help to ensure no one is left on the sidelines watching. Huffington was sure to note that injuries are not viewed as part of the application review process. Participants are chosen based on who they feel will benefit the most. They also look for veterans who may be good mentors for other veterans as well.
The group veers away from similarities shared with other veteran-support groups in their alcohol free policy and the inclusion of military spouses. While not every outing is open to spouses, couples fishing trips allow for connection and relation between couples, something rarely found in these types of groups.
According to Huffington, many have similar interests and hobbies so the “real value is the network”, he concluded noting many enter as complete strangers and leave as close friends. “Tha’s just the real magic of this program.”
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