Many non-veterans are surprised to learn that getting our participants on a Rivers of Recovery trip is sometimes the hardest part.
While an all-expenses-paid fishing trip sounds like a good idea, when the day arrives, combat vets may find themselves struggling for the motivation.
Since most of our participants suffered from PTSD—which is very common for combat military personnel—it makes sense that a new experience can trigger symptoms. Similar symptoms also are typical with mild to moderate traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to the National Institutes of Health.
And those are the veterans we serve. Some may have doubts they “deserve” such a trip. Others worry they may be asked to reveal or recount things they’d rather not. And many simply feel uncomfortable about the unknown.
So the RoR staff tries to help our participants overcome this barrier.
Before the Trip Begins
Jose Jauregui is our best resource. A former RoR participant who now serves at our Director of Operations, Jose has the magic touch when it comes talking to combat veterans who might feel some anxiety about trying something new.
“I try to pick them up, if possible,” he said. “It makes it easier for them once they meet me.”
Indeed, Jose has a personality that is hard to resist. Quiet and unassuming, he eases the tension with our participants, assuring them Rivers of Recovery staff won’t force participants to do anything they don’t want to on the trip.
And once they hear Jose’s story—well, it’s hard to forget.
In August 2004 Jose’s regiment was deployed to Ar Ramadi, Iraq. On April 16, 2005, a 122-mm rocket struck their howitzer.
“It was a four-man crew,” Jose said. “I was the sole survivor.”
Jose sustained 3rd degree burns over 75% of his body, lost most of his fingers on his left hand and most use of the right. Given just a 3% chance of living, after nearly a year in the hospital and more than 70 surgeries, he beat the odds.
Helping Combat Vets, One Trip at a Time
Fast forward through his lengthy recovery, and now Jose is helping other veterans through RoR.
“He’s an inspiration,” is the succinct explanation from Jason Smagacz, organizer of Rivers of Recovery’s first Michigan trip.
And while that’s a lot to put on someone, Jose handles it with grace. With every trip, he’s simply there to help our vets get started—and find the way forward.
Interested in helping our U.S. combat veterans too? Here’s some suggestions.