By Russ Thurman
A wheelchair-bound veteran receives instruction on the handgun range during the 10th HAVA/SAPD
National Family Day. At left is Rick Cicero, HAVA’s Learn To Shoot Again director, and at right
is Jan Mladek of Smith & Wesson.
Honored American Veterans Afield (HAVA) celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, with increased support of disabled veterans, wounded active duty military personnel and their families.
HAVA began in 2008 with six industry company employees hosting a hunt for four disabled veterans. Since then, HAVA has hosted over 8,200 disabled veterans and their families at Family Days, hunting trips and a variety of shooting events in 25 states, Africa and New Zealand.
“A decade of service to disabled veterans who deserve the support of our industry is the HAVA legacy. Our 20 sustaining sponsors and dozens of other contributing companies can be proud of their support of this worthy cause,” said Tom Taylor, HAVA chairman. “The shooting sports industry has created a compassionate and efficient standard for other veterans’ charities to measure against, and we’re proud to be the industry’s advocate for strong veteran service.”
During 2017, HAVA hosted three Family Days that served more than 825 disabled veterans and their families, and conducted 32 Learn To Shoot Again (LTSA) events with 235 participants in 11 states, along with long-range shooting events and additional hunts.
In June, the Sixth Annual HAVA/ACADEMI Family Day drew 225 participants to the ACADEMI Training Center in Moyock, N.C. In September, HAVA hosted 200 at its Fifth Annual Family Day at the Rockcastle Shooting Center in the Park Mammoth Resort of Park City, Ky.
The organization held its HAVA/SAPD National Family Day in October at the San Antonio Police Academy facility, celebrating the 10th anniversary of this flagship event.
More than 400 disabled veterans, wounded active duty military personnel, their families and volunteers enjoyed a day of shooting, youth events, good food, gifts, prizes and camaraderie. Highlights of the day included exhibitions by world champion shooter Max Michel and shotgun shooter Micah McMillan, along with 10 teams shooting pistol, rifle and airbow stages. The day also featured one-on-one shooting instruction from HAVA’s LTSA instructors. All severely injured, they taught other similarly injured veterans how to overcome their disabilities to shoot targets. There was also special instruction from the A Girl & A Gun organization.
“HAVA and the San Antonio Police Department have formed a tremendous partnership to serve these great men and women and their families,” Taylor shared. “SAPD has over 2,300 officers, many of them veterans, and they take pride in the department’s contribution to this very worthy cause. Their loyalty and volunteerism is a big part of what makes this event possible.”
Wounded combat veterans Bryant Jacobs (left) and Nick Orchowski celebrate a successful HAVA/Glen Dene-sponsored
hunting trip to New Zealand. Orchowski said, “Could we do what we did in a normal setting? There is no way. You got
guys, like Heath Gunn [HAVA outreach manager] and yourself [Richard Dodds] who are, like listen, ‘I think you can
do it. But, if you can’t, I’m going to be right there for you.’”
Special Hunts, Training
HAVA-sponsored hunts throughout the U.S. have reintroduced and, in some cases, introduced disabled veterans to the enjoyment of going afield. In November, HAVA and the Monroe-Schuler Foundation of Reno, Nev., announced the completion of the Fifth Annual New Mexico Elk Hunt. Ten disabled veterans took part in the hunt at the Vermejo Park Ranch near the NRA Whittington Center.
“The HAVA/Monroe-Schuler Elk Hunt is the highlight of our hunting year and has facilitated hosting 50 disabled veterans in this hunter’s paradise since 2012. With the help of the Whittington Center staff and the continuing support of the Monroe-Schuler Foundation, we expect to continue to host these disabled American heroes for many years to come,” Taylor said.
The LTSA program, launched in 2016, expanded last year. The director of the program is Rick Cicero, a double-amputee, combat veteran. LTSA has conducted numerous training sessions at facilities across the nation. These include The Center for the Intrepid, located next to the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas; the Dade City (Fla.) Rod & Gun Club in conjunction with the International Institute of Orthotics and Prosthetics; and West Virginia’s Peacemaker National Training Center.
“We had eight physically challenged students, mostly from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, at our inaugural Peacemaker event. We were very pleased with the results as we structured our curriculum specifically for each participant,” Cicero informed.
A wounded combat veteran, classified as a quadriplegic, leaves his wheelchair to take part in a HAVA
Learn To Shoot Again event in Nov. 2017.
The HAVA/SAPD National Family Day provided an opportunity for making memories for husbands and wives,
along with their families.
HAVA’s commitment and stringent standards has gained the organization national attention. Late last year, NSSF asked HAVA to represent the industry at a meeting hosted by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. The goal of the October meeting was to gather ideas on how to make public lands more accessible to veterans. Taylor and Cicero attended the meeting.
“I want these warriors to be able to return home from their service and enjoy the very lands they fought to protect,” Zinke said. “I want to make sure hunting and fishing on public lands is easily accessible and available. Hearing ideas from leaders in the veteran community about how to achieve this goal has given my team some much-needed insight as we move forward.”
The meeting reinforced the importance of HAVA’s mission.
“There is no doubt what we are doing is important, and we were honored to represent the industry at this significant meeting,” Taylor said. “We were successful in presenting the challenge we face in getting access to veterans in order to invite them to events. We face roadblocks with organizations, hospitals and other facilities. Those in charge often don’t like guns, or have preconceived notions concerning placing firearms in the hands of those who have seen combat. That we were able to inform Sec. Zinke of this challenge was important.”
Following the meeting, Cicero, as LTSA director, was invited to address more than 100 employees of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service — along with others attending the meeting across the country via teleconferencing. Cicero presented HAVA’s and LTSA’s successes in having disabled instructors teach shooting to severely disabled veterans.
“Having the benefit of the LTSA team of disabled instructors’ experiences, plus the support of these government agencies to return accessibility to wildlife refuges for veterans with physical challenges gives us the credibility and resources to inspire the severely disabled veteran to reach his or her true potential,” Cicero said.
Old friendships are renewed and new ones made at the HAVA/SAPD National Family Day in San Antonio, Oct. 2017.
HAVA’s second decade presents great opportunities, along with challenges, Taylor said.
“We have set challenging goals, with a strong focus on delivering HAVA’s message and services to more disabled veterans and wounded active duty military personnel. They need our help reconstructing their lives after experiencing unimaginable personal tragedy.
“We are also aware of the challenges we face, some from those who don’t like firearms and prevent access to veterans — and from those in our country who may begin to disregard the sacrifices made by those who have fought for our freedom. Fortunately, we are in an industry that still honors these sacrifices. HAVA has enjoyed strong sponsorship or other support from the industry, for which we are grateful.
“As to the future, we’re growing at a sustainable rate by measuring our performance to a strict standard, and look forward to our second decade with a strong commitment to those who served and sacrificed when their country called,” he concluded.
Tom Taylor, HAVA chairman, and Rick Cicero, HAVA LTSA director, attend a meeting hosted by Secretary of the
Interior Ryan Zinke to share ideas on how to make public lands more accessible to veterans.
HAVA is a 501(c)(3) organization formed by companies in the shooting and outdoor industry with the purpose of raising awareness and further assisting disabled veterans with their healing process through guided hunts, shooting events and other outdoor sports activities. The sustaining sponsor companies are Smith & Wesson, National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), SIG SAUER, ACADEMI, Arnold Defense, Vista Outdoors/Federal Ammunition, Crimson Trace, FMG Publications, GLOCK, Hornady, Leapers/UTG, Leupold & Stevens, Mossberg, National Association of Sporting Goods Wholesalers (NASGW), PROOF Research, Rossi, Ruger, SureFire, Taurus, XS Sights and Yamaha Outdoors, among numerous contributing companies.
To learn more about HAVA, visit www.honoredveterans.org.