Veterans take to the water in Pennsylvania ‘Heroes’ program
York, PA - Travis Goebel enjoyed the quiet of a lazy Sunday morning paddling his kayak across Lake Williams.
“It’s so calming,” Goebel said, noting there’s no noise from a motor or a radio. “I can disconnect from everything when I’m out on the water.”
Goebel was one of a handful of military service veterans who turned out for a kayak fishing event Sunday at the lake in Springfield Township, the first event by the recently formed Central Pennsylvania chapter of Heroes on the Water. The group aims to help recently returning military veterans transition to civilian life through outdoor activities.
Goebel presented a $5,000 check to Heroes on the Water from the Quigley-Baum American Legion Post 72 in Palmyra, where he is the post commander.
He said he discovered the Heroes on the Water organization through Facebook and began following it. He became convinced that it really helps veterans transition back to family and community life.
“If it can get a guy out of the VA Hospital, or get a guy out on the water, it’s worth it,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe how therapeutic this is.”
Organizer Dustin Miller said he became involved by volunteering with a Heroes on the Water group in New Jersey, and organizers there asked him to start a chapter in Central Pennsylvania.
The group serving all of Central Pennsylvania formed on March 23 and approached York County parks and recreation officials about the location of an event, Miller said.
“They thought it was fantastic that we chose a York County park for our first event,” Miller said.
For Sunday’s event, all the equipment was donated, including kayaks, fishing poles and lures, as well as food for the veterans’ lunches under the trees near the boat launch area.
A guide also went out on the water with each veteran.
Dwayne Sudduth of Newberry Township said he decided to be a guide as a way of giving back. “I served in
the Navy in peacetime, but these guys served in war time,” he said.
He added that the veteran who was with him recently returned from overseas and said: “This is the least amount of stress I’ve had in months.”
Goebel said he understands what veterans go through when they come back from overseas duty — he served two tours in Iraq in 2004-2005 and again in 2009 as a flight engineer aboard a CH 47 Chinook Helicopter. He’s currently a staff sergeant in the Army National Guard at Fort Indiantown Gap.
“When an order is given, you have to produce immediately or somebody could get killed,” he said of combat duty.
However, the returning solder has to learn how to relax the can-do spirit at home, or in interactions with family members.
He said wasn’t comfortable in crowds, where he found himself resorting to the old combat theater habit of scanning the crowd to assess possible threats.
Another veteran who turned out Sunday said that while soldiers sometimes cope with physical injuries, the most common obstacle to resuming civilian life is psychological.
John Gordy of Fairview Township, a 24-year veteran who served more than seven years as an artilleryman in Vietnam, said more is known about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder now than when he served.
“We hid the fact that we had psychological problems to protect our careers,” he recalled. After Vietnam, Gordy left the military but enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1991. He retired as a first sergeant in 2009.
Those who’ve been in combat often don’t want to re-live what they’ve experienced, yet people sometimes ask insensitive questions like, “How many people did you kill?” he said.
When that question was put to him, Gordy was upset for a couple of days, he said. “I really didn’t want to go back to work.”
People who have contact with a veteran need to be aware of what can trigger emotional reactions, he said, adding his triggers can include a variety of senses, including the sound of firecrackers or certain smells.
When hit with something as seemingly harmless as a passing smell, Gordy said he might not sleep well that night.
Heroes on the Water, Central Pennsylvania Chapter, is holding another kayak fishing event in two months.
The next event is planned for 8 a.m. Sept. 7 at Gifford Pinchot State Park.
Any veterans or anyone interested in volunteering can find more information at the group’s Facebook page by searching for Heroes on the Water.