The 5th Annual Weekend Warrior Hook-up for AHERO Veterans from across the country commenced on August 19-21, 2016. The AHERO organization provides camaraderie through outdoor activities in efforts to facilitate mental health and wellness among our nations Veterans.
Each year in the summer, AHERO takes Veterans out on Pensacola Beach for some fun-filled fishing and boating. This trip is made possible by the generous efforts of local boat captains who offer their time, talents, and vessels to give these Veterans an experience that will create lifelong memories. Leading up to the Friday fishing trip, Veterans enjoyed the "Welcome Aboard" reception banquet at the Grand Marlin on Pensacola Beach. Friday morning, a cannon signaled the launch of the armada as the boats pulled away from the dock in front of Quietwater Beach Boardwalk. Festivities continued on Saturday with brunch, featuring guest speaker, Escambia County Manager of Marine Resources, Robert Turpin. Following brunch was a delicious fish fry later in the day hosted by the Elks Lodge on Pensacola Beach. Entertainment and good times were had at the Sandshaker later that evening. More aquatic fun was had throughout Saturday, giving one particular Veteran a very special experience.
Former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, Army Veteran, and quadruple amputee, Dave Riley, was able to do something he’d never done before: cruise the open waters on a jet ski. In 2010, Riley was named the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year. Riley has proven his dedication to enhancing the lives of injured Veterans across the country; he was the first Coast Guardsman to receive this award. To add to his list of service and accomplishments, Riley was just named the new national commander for the DAV nonprofit. He is the first Coast Guardsman to serve with this title.
Crediting much of his recovery and success to the DAV, Riley was able to find independence and adrenaline through his participation in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. It was during this experience of flying down the slope on a custom-fitted ski that he found the ability to tap into the excitement and rush that he had been missing since medically retiring from the Coast Guard.
AHERO, like the DAV, seeks to provide that sense of adventure and independence with the element of camaraderie. Among the excitement of big game hunting, deep sea fishing, and fancy banquets, these Veterans are able to find comfort knowing that they are not alone. Through sharing stories, slaps on the back, laughter, tears, and silent acknowledgment, these men and women are able to heal from the visible and invisible wounds of war.
The weekend concluded with a Sunday morning "Worship at the Water," hosted by the Gulf Breeze Methodist Church and brunch at Flounders. The AHERO Veterans then had their last hoorah of the weekend at Paradise Bar and Grill for the DREAM Project CD Release. Founder of the DREAM Project, Raela Villanueva, with the help of the Pensacola community, local musicians, and musicians from New Orleans, raised money for AHERO through CD sales, a raffle, and a silent auction of art, gift certificates, and more donated by local community individuals and organizations.
The people of Pensacola came together to make this weekend possible for our nation’s heroes. At every event, Pensacola showed immense gratitude and courtesy to our Veterans. This Warrior Weekend Hook-Up is always a time to reflect and remember that our Veterans’ lives can be enhanced through collective community efforts.
AHERO non-profit organization is entirely volunteer-run. Through providing camaraderie and unforgettable experiences for our Veterans, AHERO serves to reduce Veteran suicide. For more information on AHERO please visit www.aherousa.com.
If you're interested in more information about Dave Riley and his courageous journey, you can find it here.