Every vet’s story is different. But there’s something about Jose Jauregui’s story that resonates with other veterans, and many RoR participants feel a special connection with him long after the trip is over.
Jose joined the U.S. Army as a cannon crew member and did his basic training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Upon completion of that training, he was stationed in Camp Hovey in South Korea where he served with the 2/17 Field Artillery.
In August 2004 his 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.
He returned home in 2007 but never tried to reconnect with anything related to the military. In the fall of 2013, however, Jose participated in his first fishing trip with Rivers of Recovery.
“It had been years since I’d been out of the military, but I’d never done any veterans functions or anything like that,” he said.
On the trip, Jose felt a sense of camaraderie from the first day. Hearing and sharing stories helped him know there were others going through very similar situations. He describes it as the most normal he’d felt since returning home.
“I met other veterans around me going through similar things,” he said. “When we go on these trips, you just instantly bond without knowing each other. They see me going through the same stuff as they are, and I think we help each other. That’s what it’s all about.”
After his first RoR trip, Jose volunteered on others. Now he is the full-time RoR directory of guiding operations, which is responsible managing each camp. Sharing his experience with other veterans throughout many trips has left a lasting impact. Perhaps that’s why so many veterans feel a kinship with Jose that lasts long after a trip is over.
“I get a lot out of it,” he said. “It gives you the sense of being normal in the community now.”
And that’s something Jose wishes every veteran could experience.
“I’d recommend Rivers of Recovery to any veteran,” he explained. “It’s done so much for me, and hopefully now everybody can get out of it what I got out of it.”