Published by Sidney Meriweather, Director of First Impressions
CODY, WHAT IS YOUR LIFE DEFINED?
Hi, I’m Cody Hirt and one of the co-founders of Veteran Outdoors. For me, a “Life Defined” is getting out serving others in a physical way. When you’re worn out spiritually, emotionally, and physically and at the end of the day you’ve helped someone and made a new friend.
WHO ARE YOU?
I grew up out in West Texas on a little ranch. All my grandfathers were in the military: all 4 in World War II and 1 in the Korean War. We were a very tight-knit community, and we always served each other which has been a part of my life since day one.
I went straight from high school, into college, and then into a career. I looked back one day and felt guilty that I didn’t serve our country in the military. A friend from college felt the same way, and we wanted to say thanks to those guys that stood up and said, “send me.”
I’ve lived in Georgetown for 16 years. I have a wife named Jordana, and we’ve been married for 13 years. We have a daughter, Hannah, in 4th grade and a son, Reed, in 1st grade. They love to hunt and fish, and we’re a very close-knit family that loves to travel.
WHAT IS VETERAN OUTDOORS?
Veteran Outdoors is an organization run by 5 volunteers, and we surprise veterans with their dream outdoor adventures. We take them all over the world hunting, fishing, and hiking. We have a small board, so when a need from a military family comes up, we’re able to meet in just a few minutes and decide how we can help serve these people.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START VETERAN OUTDOORS?
In 2006 my brother-in-law Wes Higgins was in Iraq. While there he was around a campfire one night talking about hunting and fishing, and he promised a couple of his buddies that he’d take them when they got back. These guys were hurt badly, so Wes asked me if I’d help take these guys on a trip when they got out of the hospital.
Finally, in August of 2007, I got the call that these guys were ready for a sheep hunt in Mason, TX. At the time I felt like it was almost a little bit of an inconvenience for me. I remember driving to Mason and thinking, “this is going to be a lot of work.”
I get there and a guy walks up and says, “do you need a hand with your baggage,” and proceeds to hand me his prosthetic arm. Around the fire that night I was next to a 21-year-old who was only 8 days into Iraq when his truck hit an IUD. It took off both his legs and he dragged himself and the guy riding shotgun out of the vehicle. He died 3 times on his way to the hospital, but what struck me was how positive he was.
I reflected on that moment and realized I was upset that week because my internet was slow. That’s who I had become. It was a slap-in-the-face and wake up call to life. Not only seeing the therapeutic effects on this guy who thought he could never climb in a blind again but what it did for me and all our friends who went on that trip too.
WHAT HAS VO BEEN THROUGH FROM WHERE IT STARTED TO WHERE IT IS TODAY?
We started Veteran Outdoors with just a few of us who wanted to serve people, and realistically it was just us taking veterans on trips. About 3 years in we knew it made sense to form a 501(c)(3). In 2010 we filed with the state of TX, and we brought a couple more guys on board to volunteer.
A lot of the guys who volunteer today are guys that we took on trips. It’s been so impactful on their lives spiritually, mentally, and therapeutically. We’ve shared an experience together that you can’t take away and that has built a family. That’s what we tell guys after a trip; they’re now a part of the VO family, and it’s time for them to serve others.
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL OF A VO TRIP LOOK LIKE?
There are several different ways that we start these trips:
- Someone goes to our website com and clicks “Submit a Hero.” You can submit yourself or someone you love, and that generates an email that’s sent to me. It says who they are, here’s what they’ve been through, and here’s what he would like to do.
- We also have a relationship with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Brooks Army Medical Center, and Center for the Intrepid. They’ll call us and say they have a guy there that has a mental block, but his passion is fishing and if you guys can show him that he can still do that I think we can get him out of here.
- Finally, we prefer the “Pay it Forward” method. This is when we reunite those that helped save the lives of each other in Afghanistan, Iraq, and all over the world. It’s extremely impactful bringing them back together.
We plan the actual trips with their families and businesses months in advance, and usually ask to surprise them. We show up and say, “we know your dream has been to shoot a grizzly bear in Alaska, we have a private jet waiting at the airport, and we’re going right now.”
Throughout the trip, they get different things: Weatherby, Inc. provides them with a weapon that’s theirs to keep, GameGuard Outdoors and Kryptek provide camo from head to toe, and we have Steven’s Taxidermy that provides the animal so they can remember this special time, and we process the meat.
A lot of times we bring their families on these trips too. When these guys deploy, they’re taken away from their family, so we want to help them create memories together. We sent a family of 7 to Walt Disney World a few years ago, and other times we’ve helped guys provide Christmas for their families.
WHAT IS THE VISION FOR VETERAN OUTDOORS?
When we started VO in 2007 my vision had been to serve in a small capacity, possibly help 10-15 people a year. We’ve grown exponentially more than we thought. We try to meet every year and say we’re going to scale back, but God always has a different plan for us.
I’d like to tell you what my plan is for VO, but God has laughed at all our plans and continues to grow it. We just hit 3,000 veterans that we’ve taken on a trip since August 2007.
Now I see the sky as the limit. We have outreach coordinators all over the world, and I see this growing bigger and bigger by serving others that want to also serve after that because of the impact it’s had on their lives.
WHAT IS THE LIFELONG IMPACT ON THE MEN THAT GO THROUGH VO?
They say, “iron sharpens iron,” and I truly believe that. When you start to surround yourself with good people, good things come out of it. At the end of the day I hope they’re better fathers, better husbands, better Christians, and I hope that they’re not scared to talk it and spread it to other people.
A real man cries a real man loves, that’s what a real man does. When you’re able to take these guys that have been hardened, peel back the onion, and get to those emotions sometimes they’ll say they’re better off because of these injuries.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST AREA OF NEED AT VO?
Our greatest need is travel expenses. We have a lot of connections with private aircraft, but sometimes we bring large groups of people which is our greatest cost is right now. Getting these guys and moving them across the country to where they’re being surprised with these trips is our greatest need.
HOW COULD SOMEONE PARTNER WITH VO FINANCIALLY, PHYSICALLY, OR OTHERWISE?
The best way to partner with Veteran Outdoors is to reach out to us on veteranoutdoors.com, send an email, or give us a call. We like to sit down and make everything personal. A lot of people don’t think they’re eligible for these trips. Realistically we have no criteria for that, and if you sign the bottom line, you’re eligible. We’ve taken people all the way from WWII to our most recent skirmishes even if it’s not on record. We believe that all these people are eligible.
Second, we want to get to know those who want to serve because there’s no telling what kind of capacity that God has put into your life where you could help. Maybe it’s bookkeeping, volunteering at a Gala, or you have an airplane. We want to know who you are and want you to know the heart behind our organization as well.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE ABOUT VETERAN OUTDOORS?
Our organization is helping bridge the gap between civilians and veterans. Most of us have never been through what these guys have, but I think what the WWII guys and the Vietnam guys taught us a lot.
WWII guys came back and didn’t talk about it, Vietnam guys came back, and no one listened. Those two generations taught us that we need to talk about it, and we need to listen. We need to bridge these gaps and know that we’re there for each other. They’ve served us, and now it’s time to serve them.