Every once in a while I’m presented with the opportunity to take a trip and test new machines and explore some of the greatest riding areas this country has to offer. Some of these have been the experience of a lifetime for me, but I’ve never been as touched or impacted as I was on a recent trip to San Antonio, Texas. At the end of October, I was invited to attend the Honored American Veterans Afield (HAVA) Family Day as a guest of Yamaha, which is a sustaining sponsor of the organization. If you’ve never heard of HAVA, it is an organization that was created by a group of shooting sports industry executives who wanted to do something that would help our disabled combat veterans heal and reintegrate back into normal American life through participation in outdoor events. In short, they try to help our wounded soldiers live the normal life they had before they were injured in combat.
I was definitely excited to be a part of this event because what this organization stands for hits close to home for me. My father is a disabled vet himself who had lost his left leg as result of stepping on a land mine during a tour in Vietnam. Regardless of his handicap, he has not let it stop him from doing the activities he loves, ranging from off-road driving to shooting and hunting. He is the person who gave me my passion for everything off-road and outdoors. To make this trip even better, Yamaha also extended an invitation for my father to attend the event with me.
Upon our arrival to the National Shooting Complex in San Antonio, we were welcomed by Tom Taylor, HAVA’s chairman. Not really knowing the plan for the day, I asked what the itinerary was for the event and what did participants expect to do. There would be everything from a shooting exhibition by USA Shooting Team members Mark Weeks and Haley Dunn to participants getting the chance to shoot some of the latest weapons the shooting industry has to offer. While the explanation was a bit vague to me, I was still extremely interested in exactly what would go down for the day. As I walked around snapping pictures of the prizes that were going to be given away during a raffle that evening, our honored guests of the day started making their way to the registration tables. Of the 250 registered attendees, many of these soldiers were transported from a local military rehabilitation hospital and some were relatively fresh from their combat deployment. I was humbled to be in their presence as soldiers younger than me arrived to be a part of this event. I’ve always had immense respect for our military because of my father and every other family member who has served our country, and to be in the presence of all these vets left me speechless and nearly in tears. These are the people who’ve sacrificed their lives to fight for our rights to do the things that we love, and seeing how positive they were regardless of the kind of injuries they sustained made me respect them that much more.
After a great shooting exhibition and filling lunch provided by the local VFW, everyone headed for the target ranges to shoot everything from single-action Western-style pistols to the latest in military-issued long-range sniper rifles. I wheeled my dad around to the various shooting stations, and while he was waiting his turn, I’d walk to the other stations and see how well the event was being received. No matter where I went, everyone wore smiles and were having a great time. One shooting station that really had me amazed was specifically arranged for those vets who were unable to use their arms. There a rifle mounted on a contraption allowed the shooter to sight into the target using a joystick like a video game, and when they were ready to shoot they would blow into a plastic straw-like hose which was actually an air-activated trigger. To see this kind of ingenuity to allow people to shoot was awesome.
One vet in particular stands out most in my mind from this event. He appeared to be in his early 20s, if that, and was a triple amputee, which meant that both of his legs and his left arm were removed as result of his injuries sustained during combat. During the shooting exhibition he was impressed with what he saw, but someone overheard him saying how he didn’t think he would be able to participate in anything else because of his injuries. One of the event organizers heard this soldier and instantly addressed to him that they would make sure he would be able to do every activity they had to offer. At the end of the day when the shooting range was getting ready to shut down, this soldier was still firing off as many rounds as he could before everyone had to be rounded up and returned to the clubhouse for the evening. The HAVA organization puts on this event to specifically address soldiers like this one and let them know they can still do things that they love.
After an excellent Texas barbecue dinner again provided by the VFW, prizes were raffled off and awards were handed out for the best shooters. I sat back with my dad and really took in what I had the opportunity to be a part of. In the past, I’ve used the word hero to describe ATV industry personalities who I respect, but today had nothing to do with ATVs and everything to do with heroes. The next time you throw a leg over your ATV, take a moment to think about the soldiers who are away from their families overseas fighting for the rights that many of us seem to take for granted. The reason you’re able to go ride whenever you feel like it is because they put their lives on the line to ensure we can do so. I’d like to make a request to everyone reading this story. The next time you see a member of our armed forces, take a quick second to thank them for their service. It may not seem like much, but it’s one way we can show our appreciation for what they do. ATVR