A warrior's mission to get back to the dirt

A warrior's mission to get back to the dirt

“It was the most beautiful morning I remember in Afghanistan. I just happened to come up on this trail, and I saw five or six Taliban staring right at me. As I raised my rifle to engage, an IED detonated directly underneath me.”

U.S. 101st Airborne Infantry Division Recon Scout Squad Leader (Ret.) J.D. Williams became a triple amputee — losing both of his legs and his right arm — on that crystal-clear October day in 2010.

When the helicopter came to pick up J.D., he started turning blue and holding his breath to die. In that moment, he remembers “my goal was to stay alive to see my wife and daughter one last time.”

After cardiac arrest, it took doctors massaging his heart to bring J.D. back to life.

Having grown up in a small town in Montana, J.D. says he had always dreamed of joining the military. Camping, learning survival techniques, and hunting have always been a huge part of his life. When he was growing up, he'd go on hunting trips with his father, and his love of adventure led to a childhood spent exploring the outdoors. J.D. joined the army right out of high school, hoping for that same sense of adventure in the military.

“I wanted to do something that was an adventure — I wanted to see and experience different cultures and signed up for the army to see where I would go,” he says of his desire to enlist.

But J.D. never could have dreamed of what happened to him that day in Afghanistan – or how hard readjusting to civilian life as a triple amputee would be. “No one tells you what it’s like to live a life with no arms and legs,” he remembers. “Nobody likes to be called a wounded anything. I want to be treated the way I was when I raised my right hand."

J.D.'s wife, Ashlee Williams, says that a big fear for her husband was losing his family, that she might not love him anymore due to his new life as a triple amputee. And transitioning back into civilian life, particularly without his legs and one arm, was a considerable challenge. But J.D.'s family simply challenged him to be who he was before.

“The only way I knew to be really happy with my injuries, was to challenge myself through the great outdoors and get back in the dirt,” J.D. declared.

This re-acclimation to civilian life meant relearning his passions — hunting, fishing and working the land on his 80-acre farm. J.D.’s love of nature and the outdoors has led to healing, and he wanted to share that with his fellow veterans.

“Doing what I love and being outdoors is what has gotten me through my toughest times,” J.D. continued. “After seeing the impact the outdoors had on my own personal recovery, I decided to embark on a new life journey called Mohawk Outdoors. Mohawk Outdoors is a nonprofit founded to help get my military brothers and sisters up off their couches and out in the great outdoors.”

Mohawk Outdoors takes combat veterans on outdoor adventures that build confidence, camaraderie and lifelong memories. Since its inception, Mohawk has led more than 100 combat veterans on fishing, hunting and shooting trips. The locations for the excursions are remote, a challenge in itself for the adventurers.

The challenge with these outdoor adventures? "Nothing is handicap accessible." You "have to adapt and overcome." In nature, there aren’t handrails to help you walk or ramps for your wheelchair. The goal of Mohawk Outdoors is to get veterans out of their wheelchairs, out of their homes, and into the dirt. Experiencing this is the most healing thing in the world.

“I rely on wheelchairs, and the terrain on these trips tears them up,” says J.D. “I always thought having a UTV would be a game-changer for not only myself, but the other warriors as well.”

When KIOTI Tractor heard J.D.’s story, they knew they had to help get J.D. and other veterans back to the dirt, enjoying all that nature has to offer.

A gift of a custom modified KIOTI K9 2440 UTV, created in collaboration with Life Essentials, was the perfect way to help. Designed specifically for his Mohawk Outdoors mission to provide veterans with a taste of adventure and the great outdoors, the UTV will get Mohawk Outdoors participants places they’ve never been.

The UTV was outfitted with an array of useful customizations, such as hand-controlled throttle and brake, an electronic lift system that can help disabled veterans enter and exit the vehicle, a remotely operated gear lift to stow heavy items like wheelchairs in the back and an assortment of other accessibility features and storage solutions. 

Bryan Falkner, KIOTI Product Specialist and U.S. Army Sergeant, played a key role in modifying the UTV for Mohawk Outdoors’ needs.

For J.D., having a UTV that is accessible to anyone makes the excursions of his Mohawk Outdoors initiative easier, meaning that he can continue to provide invaluable experiences to combat veterans.

A return to civilian life is a challenging adjustment for many veterans.

But J.D. says that if he could go back in time and change the course of his past, he wouldn't. His new way of life, he notes, has led him to appreciate the small things.

Through Mohawk Outdoors and a customized KIOTI K9 UTV, J.D. will now be able to help more combat veterans than ever before.

If you wish to make a donation to Mohawk Outdoors, you can do so by visiting https://www.mohawkoutdoors.org/blank

This is a sponsored article in association with KIOTI Tractor.