What happens to the children of America’s fallen heroes?
Our soldiers lay their lives on the line for our country, so we can have the freedoms that allow each of us to pursue our passions every day. For that, we couldn’t be more grateful. While we take time to honor these heroes on specific holidays, it’s admittedly too rare that we take the time to consider, “What are the consequences of losing our fallen heroes?” It’s a question that we civilians frequently take for granted because, quite honestly, the answer breaks our hearts.
To some, the answer means a child whose parent will not be able to watch them flourish and grow to become a successful young adult. The question becomes: Who will take these adolescents under their wing, honor their sacrifice, and equip them with the valuable skill-sets required to, like their lost parent, become a true leader? The answer is WOLF (Warrior Outdoor Leadership for the Future) — a heartwarming mentorship program, providing leadership skills to the adolescents of fallen United States Special Operation Forces.
Recently, our newly appointed CEO, Josh Abel, spent a weekend traveling to the Provo River, near Park City, Utah, where his trip had one purpose: to mentor the WOLF youth on his vast knowledge of fly fishing and the life-impacting parallels it shares with leadership. Hoping that in the end, the WOLF Pack would feel loved, not forgotten and empowered as future leaders.
“Boarding the plane to mentor the kids and teach them to fly fish, I felt solemn and excited. I have a life-long passion for fishing, but my heart hurt for the children of our fallen heroes. As I pondered the experience I was about to embark on, I came to the conclusion that, if nothing else — I hoped I could offer them a glimpse of a strong leader who genuinely cares about them,” explained Josh.
Our team, here at Gravity Jack, is aware that Josh is engaged in several charity events a year, but upon his return, it was clear to all of us that he held this cause extremely near to his heart. It’s times like this that our team is reminded of not just his ability in board rooms, offices, one-on-one meetings and our daily work, but how big Josh’s heart is — and why he so fit to lead us.
WOLF was started in 2012 by Mike Vaughn, a veteran of over twenty years in the United States Special Forces and his wife, Sara Moola. As someone extremely close to the realities that families of these heroes experience, Sara saw an educational gap that their youth were falling into. Even worse, the gap was widening due to an agonizing circumstance that is completely out of their hands. “The GI Bill provides many of these youth with higher education, but so little had been done to provide them valuable career-building experiences,” said Sara. “We’ve worked hard to build a plan that filled this gap, giving career tools to over 50 students who share this common fate.” Almost instantly, Mike saw his wife’s passion and overwhelming commitment as an opportunity to not only give back himself, but honor his fallen brothers and sisters of uniform.
It was not by chance that Josh got involved with WOLF. On top of their tireless efforts with WOLF, Mike and Sarah lead VATC (Visual Awareness Technologies and Consulting), where Sara is serves as president and co-owner, and Mike as co-owner and CEO. VATC provides relevant training experiences for United States Armed Forces and several other branches of government. On several different occasions, VATC has reached out to Gravity Jack and our services, building an incredibly supportive working relationship. This mutual respect for what our companies are capable of creating eventually grew into a personal relationship where Josh directly felt Mike and Sara’s passion for this cause. “Sara and Mike are such great people. It’s no wonder they came up with such an impactful effort for this critical cause. I simply knew that I had to be involved, however I could be.”
For those who don’t know Josh personally, he is a fly fishing enthusiast with over 20 years of experience and is co-owner to a blossoming fly fishing company, Catch Fly Fishing. His passion for the sport is so apparent that those who know him closely (our entire team included) refer to him, fondly, as ‘Trout.’ Much like directing a successful business, or raising a child, fly fishing is no easy task. It takes patience, accuracy, technique and thoughtfulness. Josh knows these traits are also what make amazing leaders, and saw an opportunity to help provide the children of SOF fallen heroes with the tools to grow and develop them — ultimately becoming leaders their parents would be incredibly proud of. Josh co-led the fly fishing excursion, with help from Kirk Burton (lead of research and development at VATC) and his good friend, 26-year Air Force Veteran, Delta Airlines pilot and fellow fly fisherman, Colonel John ‘Face’ Hanna.
“Josh and I have spent a lot of time together,” said Hanna. “He is a caring man. We both love fishing and supporting causes that we care deeply about. I saw this as another way to lend a hand. I trust Josh, so when he reached out to me about participating in the program, I said ‘yes’ before I knew what it was. Upon learning about WOLF, the situation became even more special to me.”
The experience began with Josh and the others offering casting instructions at theNational Ability Center soccer field in Park City. “After lunch, we made our way to the Provo River at the base of the Jordanelle Dam. Here, the kids broke up into groups of three and put their casting lessons to the test.”
Most of us code far better than we fly fish, so while describing his trip, Josh explained a few basics: One common style of fly fishing is known as ‘nymphing.’ This method is one of the more complex styles, because it requires a ‘wet fly,’ which sinks beneath the water’s surface, rather than a ‘dry fly’ which floats on top. With the current state of the River, I felt that the nymphing style gave our youth the best chance for success.” Due to it’s difficulty, Josh was hesitant that this approach would discourage some of the students. “During the casting instructions, I was concerned about some of the participants’ lack of interest. Once we hit the river, the same participants I was skeptical about turned out to be the most interested. There were situations that even I, as an experienced fisherman, would have been frustrated with — but they stayed calm and pushed right through, eventually prevailing. One of the WOLF Pack girls, Maka, turned to me and said, ‘Don’t cut the wind knot. I got it!’ Sure enough — five minutes later the knot was clear and the fly was back in the water waiting for another hungry brown trout to inhale the fly. It was amazingly inspiring! Although only about half the group actually brought a trout to hand, they all hooked up,” a visibly smiling Josh explained.
The values, skills and lessons taught through mentorship provided these amazing young adults with life-long lessons. Lessons that Mike and Sara wholeheartedly believe the parents of these adolescents would have passed on to them if they were still here. “We feel this was our best year so far; the program is maturing quickly thanks to local and national support. WOLF is about building the next generation of leaders — and I think Josh, Kirk and Face may have created a few fly fishing junkies along the way,” Mike Vaughn shared smiling. WOLF is special because it not only engages the students with physical activity, but incorporates the key leadership skills required to run a successful business. Simply put, the program encourages its students to have an entrepreneurial spirit and to follow their dreams — a cause we can all get behind!
WOLF members all have an unfortunate circumstance in common, but thanks to Mike, Sara, and all of the mentors, they share something deeper; something that touched Josh in such a way that shortly after the trip, Mike and Sara asked him to join the WOLF Board of Directors. Sara noted that, “Josh’s insight and expertise would be an amazing addition,” and we couldn’t agree more! Better yet, word with the team is that it’s Gravity Jack’s plan to become increasingly involved with the program however we can. It’s a commitment that our team feels privileged to be apart of.
The mission doesn’t end now that Josh is back in the office with us. We would like to encourage you to take a moment out of your day to learn more about WOLF and their important mission. You can do so at www.sofwolf.org. There, you will be able to learn about their passionate team and, if you’d like, make a donation. We are incredibly honored to have a CEO with the foresight to stand alongside an incredible program like WOLF. As we come off of the 4th of July weekend, his actions serve as a reminder of our troops and those who keep us safe every minute of every day. To Josh, it seems only natural that we accept the responsibility and honor of helping take care of their children.