CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — There’s a program available for veterans which helps them heal the invisible scars of service by spending a day on the water.
The program is called Heroes on the Water. Once a month, volunteers take veterans on kayak fishing adventures. For the vets, it's a chance to bond with their brothers and sisters while leaving their demons on shore.
“We're not trained as therapists, we're not trained to solve their problems, but we listen,” said Joseph Briones. “We let them know 'hey brother, we're here.'”
That sense of camaraderie is what drew Briones to Heroes on the Water. He started piloting one of safety boats. Today, he coordinates the local chapter.
“It's like coordinating and organizing a fishing tournament every month,” Briones said.
Started in 2007, Heroes on the Water now has more than 60 chapters across the country, as well as one in the United Kingdom and another in Australia. They offer veterans a chance to forget their troubles by enjoying a day of fishing and bonding.
“When we go to our events, you can almost see the pain in some of these guys' eyes,” said Ricky Limas. “I still see it in myself sometimes.”
As a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom with the 82 Airborne Div., Limas struggled readjusting to civilian life. He started by attending Heroes on the Water events, and now he's a volunteer guide and runs the Coastal Bend chapter's social media accounts.
“Whether I'm there with them chit-chatting or just watching, it puts me at ease knowing they're having a great time,” said Limas.
“I see these smiles, I see two strangers, brothers, hugging each other or a high-five, even if they didn't catch any fish,” added Briones.
Like Limas, Briones served in the U.S. Army, retiring after 23 years. He says events are just as beneficial for the volunteers as they are for the participants.
“We get a lot of therapy by being involved and by helping our brothers and sisters,” Briones said.
The Costal Bend chapter offers monthly trips between March-November, free of charge for veterans. The trips are also open to first responders. If you're interested in going on one of these fishing trips or if you'd like to volunteer, visit the chapter’s website or its Facebook page.