Veterans Helping Veterans: Overcoming Obstacles through the Outdoors

Veterans Helping Veterans: Overcoming Obstacles through the Outdoors
Veterans Helping Veterans: Overcoming Obstacles through the Outdoors

On October 9, 2010 — just days before he was due home to celebrate his daughter’s first birthday — Sergeant J.D. Williams, U.S. Army, was leading a small reconnaissance team through Afghan enemy territory when the unthinkable happened. An IED detonated directly underneath him and changed his life forever. He remained conscious through the medevac, realizing his right arm was shredded and his legs were no longer intact. Cardiac arrest followed and doctors swiftly conducted surgery massaging his heart back to life. J.D. woke up three days later in Germany, a triple amputee.

“I remember like it was yesterday,” recalls J.D. “But, everything that happened that day happened for a reason.”

Now, back in Kentucky, living with his wife, Ashlee, and their daughter, the Purple Heart recipient, longtime outdoorsman and large property owner doesn’t let his circumstances define — or stop — him.

“I tried to get outdoors as much as possible. My soul needed it,” he remembers.

Recovery meant relearning the details of his passions — hunting, fishing and working the land on his 80-acre farm. It was a struggle, but he was determined, even reteaching himself to shoot a bow with the use of a mouth tab.

“Doing what I love and being outdoors got me through my toughest times,” shares J.D. “I realized there were likely others who needed to overcome their own obstacles as well. That’s when I decided to help my military brothers and sisters get up off their couches and out into the great outdoors.”

J.D. launched a non-profit, called Mohawk Outdoors, dedicated to helping veterans re-acclimate to life through outdoor-focused, active excursions.

Even with all the challenges he’s overcome, J.D. has one he can’t completely remove: his wheelchair.

“I rely on wheelchairs to get me where I need to go, and I tear them up,” he laughs. “They’re not made for the terrain I’m in. I make it work, but over the years I’ve often thought about how useful a utility vehicle would be to me and our Mohawk adventures.”

As an Army Sergeant myself, when I heard J.D.’s story I knew I had to be part of the team to make his dream come true.

A lot of planning, work and anticipation went into optimizing a KIOTI K9 2440 UTV. We wanted to make sure everything worked specifically for J.D. — that was always foremost in my mind.

To accommodate only having use of his left hand, KIOTI Tractor and Life Essentials added lifts to help J.D. get in and out of the UTV, and to be able to stow and transport his wheelchair safely.

We also optimized a KIOTI winch kit so that J.D. can pick up equipment. Now, J.D.’s UTV gets him where he needs to go and allows him to do what he loves — be outdoors with his fellow veterans.

A note from Sergeant Bryan Falkner
As a veteran myself, and Product Support Lead for KIOTI, I’ve been personally impacted by KIOTI’s commitment to the veteran community. I’ve worked for KIOTI for three years and, during that time, I was deployed. While deployed, KIOTI took care of my family, and I had nothing to worry about whatsoever.

Then, to come back and work on a project like this one — that commitment speaks volumes to me, my family and my unit. It has been an honor to be in charge of this project to modify a KIOTI UTV to ensure J.D. — such a deserving veteran — is able to continue to be outside and do what he loves.

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