As the Thank You Deployment program grows, both in terms of deserving veterans and available experiences, so must our ability to bring the veteran and experience together. Years ago, we made a commitment to provide relevant experiences which now run the spectrum from various forms of entertainment and expos to outdoor excursions including hunting, fishing and backpacking. With such a high demand in the State of Texas coupled with an outpouring of support from regional partners, we’re excited to announce the addition of US Army Veteran and Heroes Gone Wild Founder, Brandon Hammond, as our Thank You Deployment Coordinator for the Texas Region.
We were able to corral Brandon recently to learn more about his service, his motivations and his goals in this role. You’ll quickly find his drive is contagious, so be warned.
Tell us a bit about your time in the Army.
[Hammond] I enlisted in August, 2000 as a Military Police officer and was assigned to 545 MP CO out of Fort Hood, Texas. From here I deployed twice for OEF/OIF. Next I was assigned to Mannheim, Germany as Military Police Investigator, deploying again for OIF with 95th MP BN. Following this deployment, I was assigned to 5th Army (ARNORTH) as Operations NCO and supported NORTHCOM/Pentagon with Joint Vulnerability Assessment Team as Anti-Terrorism and Physical Security Specialist. I left the Army in the spring of 2012.
What motivated you to join the Army?
[Hammond] I joined the Military because I wasn’t ready to take the next step in my education/career path so I utilized the opportunity to grow as a person and more importantly as a leader. This decision has served me well as I transitioned into civilian life and ultimately a career in operations management in the oil and gas field.
What are you most proud of from your time in the service?
[Hammond] If there was a highlight reel to my military service I think it would be graduating with honors at each leadership schools I attended, multiple deployments supporting GWOT, multiple high level anti-terrorism/security schools, and ending my career as a liaison to the Pentagon and seeing my research and advice put into practice at such a high level. The awards and the DD214 are great and someday I may put something together to stick on the wall, but a successful career from which I constantly am able to utilize skills learned and put to use in daily civilian life are a much more valuable reminder of time spent serving the US.
What challenges did you face during your transition?
[Hammond] The greatest challenge I faced while moving from a military life to civilian was first of all the slow down. I was operating at a pretty fast pace with the deployments and different responsibilities and once I got out it was tough to find something to fill the void. I ended up in a job with a structure very similar to the military which helped a lot to fill the void. I work in a field that is operating 24/7 with subordinates in constant motion so I basically found a way to keep myself physically and mentally engaged much like I was while serving. I realized very quickly that boredom was not good for me spiritually, mentally or physically so this has been a way to create a little healthy stress and keep myself from slowing down too much.
What drives you to continue serving the veteran community?
[Hammond] If I had to choose one main reason for a continued path of service is that I believe in the dedication of the individual who even today is still signing that paper willing to sacrifice a period of their lives to serving our country. I didn’t join for some patriotic riding in on the back of a bald eagle dressed like Uncle Sam reason. I just needed a job and I didn’t really know what else I was going to do. I gained a love and a respect for our nation and the hardships that a service member (and their families) are faced with while I was going through it myself. Military life is not easy, its hard on all facets of a man or woman’s life. People that willingly sign up for that deserve a little recognition. I want to be able to show that person that there is life after the military and that there are others that are going through the same struggles. We can still get together and have fun in the beautiful outdoors (with a lot less yelling and push-ups) and believe it or not actually enjoying camping for once…
How did you come to launch Heroes gone WILD?
[Hammond] Heroes gone WILD came from a lack of “general” support to outdoor activities that I found in the Central Texas region. There are a lot of groups that fish or hunt or mountain bike or whatever. I wanted to be able to do all of those things. Just because I like to fish doesn’t mean the next guy does. Not everybody loves hunting the way I do. Some people would rather pour lemon juice on a paper cut than sleep in a tent. I wanted to be able to create events that were based on what people wanted to do, not what somebody told them they wanted to do. I don’t want to force someone into doing something because Brandon thinks that’s their path to heal. If a guy wants to color while wearing a duck on his head and listening to heavy metal then I promise there’s somebody else that likes that too. You’re a lot more apt to reach a larger audience if there is variety in your event planning. When I started having different types of events I also found that people who wouldn’t normally commit to one thing or another were making friends and networking. Now, that guy/gal that didn’t want to go fishing before has a friend that likes fishing and maybe they’ll go together. Maybe two people meet on a hunting trip and find out that they both like hiking and they’ll go hiking. This opens up people from different walks of life and personalities and gets them together and teaches them that maybe we’re not all so different. We all share a common bond through the Military and First Responder world and because of that we can find other things we have in common and become a support structure for each other through our experiences.
What excited you about joining the Operation Supply Drop team?
[Hammond] What excites me about OSD and becoming part of the team is the potential that our two groups have together. The OSD community is largely tech related or at least that is the outward public appearance. I think some people see Heroes gone WILD as a bunch of cowboys running around in the woods drinking beer and killing things. I think both groups are somewhere in the middle, but together we can show people that just because I like fishing doesn’t mean I don’t want to play a little Rock Band now and again. The opposite is also true, just because a person is a “gamer” doesn’t mean he can’t have a moose on the wall too. Breaking down walls and stereotypes while allowing people to come together for a common reason but still have a good time…sounds like something I need to be a part of.
Why is community integration so important for our veterans?
[Hammond] Community integration is HUGE. Veterans and even active duty are members of their communities. Their kids go to community schools, they or their spouse may work in the community, their family lives in the community…getting people involved in their community is important on any level. As a Veteran, especially returning from overseas whether it be combat related or just PCS’ing you want to feel like you’ve found a new home. The constant moving is very hard on the service member but more importantly the family. You want to feel like you’re home when you’re home. If people are involved with the daily happenings they feel like they’re a part of something. If you can’t find a way to integrate civilian and military you can’t call yourself a community. An integrated community involves everybody…no exceptions. On the military side, you want that person or family to feel like they have a place to call home. On the civilian side surprisingly (or not) people want to help and be involved and do their part to support the military and first responders but sometimes they just don’t know how. Get everybody together and you solve both problems.
What goals do you have in this new role with OSD?
[Hammond] The main thing I would like to accomplish leading OSD Thank You Deployments is to continue to take or facilitate deserving individuals and groups on trips and events that make lifelong impacts. The reward for sitting next to a person while you watch their first whitetail buck fall or reel in their first fish is literally priceless. The joy that a person can find in nature is second to none. If I can be the reason or the vehicle used to find that joy, even for a short time… I served that person in the best way possible and hopefully gives me a mark in the right column whenever it’s time to tally up my naughty/nice list.
I’m excited for the opportunity. I’m excited with the potential for growth for both of our missions. Most importantly I’m excited for the chance to be able to reach more people and hopefully help more people to get back to true north, showing people that there’s a place for them in this world and that there are other people who are just like them and have the same struggles like them and that there’s a reason to keep going. 22 (veteran suicides) a day may be an outdated number, but even one a day is one too many. If I can keep one name off the list with a little extra time or effort then sign me up.