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Heroes on the Water: Life Changing Work from a Kayak

Posted: 02.28.2019

Heroes on the Water

I recently had gotten into fishing as an outlet since I had been dealing with my inner demons and survivors guilt

By Carlos De La Villa, 

My name is Carlos DeLaVilla and am currently active duty serving in the U.S. Army, but when I'm not on duty I volunteer my time to Heroes on the Water every chance I get because of the amazing service it gives to our veterans and the meaning it gives me in life. I will give you some back story as to why I feel this way and how it has impacted my life. It all started in October 2013 when one of my best friends Justin Vail told me about an event that was being held at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ for a day of kayak fishing for veterans alike. It was being hosted by Heroes on the Water.

I recently had gotten into fishing as an outlet since I had been dealing with my inner demons and survivors guilt from my experiences and deployments with 1st Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment 2005-2008. I was seeking help to improve my day to day life from the VA through counseling and medications which somewhat helped but wasn't cutting it. So I picked up fishing and fished every chance I could with Justin, but then Heroes on the Water went a step further by fishing from the seat of a kayak which ended up sealing the deal for me.


That day was a start of a new life for me and have HOW and Patrick O'Donnell our fishing mentor to thank for it. There is something about being closer to the water and being amidst Mother Nature's serenity that gives me true peace and solace, and also feeds my competitive side by the "hunt" of trying to entice a fish to tighten my fishing line and the adrenaline pump from every second of the fight when wrangling a fish into my kayak. As they say the "tug was now my drug" (pic is me with my first fish from a kayak!). I had found my calling and it helped me leave all my mental baggage and demons on land even just for the time I was on the water. I will never forget what HOW and my mentor Patrick O'Donnell did for me that day, and I got to share it amongst other veterans that were dealing with the same demons mental or physical which made me feel like I was part of a family. HOW and Patrick O'Donnell changed my life for the better and I will forever be grateful to them because of it. I was hooked and after that day started saving all the money I could so I could buy a kayak to be able to go that place in my head whenever I needed to get away from my daily battles. Later that winter I received PCS orders to report to San Diego, CA which was bittersweet because I was going to have to leave my kayak fishing brothers Justin and Patrick and the HOW family, which is what they became to me. The great thing about the HOW organization is that there are chapters all across the U.S. and was able to link up with a mentor in my area.

CJ Siebler acted as if we had knew each other for years already. He reached out to me and took me under his wing as a brother and showed me the "ropes" of the SoCal fisheries all because of the extended family connection through Heroes on the Water. CJ would let me borrow any of his kayaks from his fleet whenever I pleased, if he couldn't take me out himself. Shortly thereafter I purchased my first kayak a Thresher 140. I also was privledged enough to become a Wildy pro-staffer myself. CJ then asked me after a HOW event "Why don't you mentor our Veterans at the next event?" After that day I had a new calling and it was bringing that same peace and joy I revered to other veterans from all the knowledge I had gained from my kayak fishing family. Now nothing gives me more joy than seeing another veterans' face light up after catching their first fish from a kayak. Ever since I have volunteered to every event that the Army has allowed me to if I wasn't training.

Organizations like Heroes on the Water are only as strong as their volunteers and donations from companies like Wilderness Systems who donates kayaks regularly. Which grows the organization and helps us volunteers bring this outlet to more veterans which is what it's all about. Reaching our veterans and giving them an opportunity to find this outlet from whatever it is they are dealing with has given me a purpose, more meaning to my life, and in turn has helped me with my daily struggles. A big part of why I volunteer is so I can serve my brothers and sisters of the armed forces who answered the call just like I did, and feel as if I'm providing a service to them in a time of need as I once received in my time of need. Heroes on the Water has become my extended family and I will continue to volunteer and mentor as long as I am able.

SSG De La Villa, Carlos
S3 Operations & Training NCO
301st Psychological Operations Company (A)

(My first day as a Wilderness Systems Pro Staffer in San Diego Bay)




















(Another happy veteran hooked on kayak fishing at a HOW SoCal chapter event in Tidelands Park.)