This article first appeared in August September ’17 issue of Owensboro Living Magazine.

“I’ve never kayaked in my life until we started this adventure.”  Those aren’t exactly the words you’d expect to hear from someone kayaking 2,320 miles over the course of 90 days.  But his complete lack of experience didn’t seem to bother Logan Hastings.  Neither did his bad back.  Perhaps that’s because he had already endured tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan (where he injured his back when the dozer he was driving hit an IED and flipped).

It was that same combat experience, and the difficulties that many of his military brothers and sisters endured upon returning home, that spurred Logan on his great “adventure.”  More specifically, Logan has watched many of his friends suffer with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and many have committed suicide.  Recent statistics show that the suicide rate among veterans is roughly twice the national average (ptsd.va.gov.).  In response to this crisis, Logan’s parents, Jeff and Criss Hastings, felt called to start the Warrior 180° Foundation.  Jeff also served in the Army as a chaplain from 2009 to 2016, including one deployment to Kuwait (after serving as a hospital chaplain here in Owensboro, and as an interim pastor at Walnut Memorial Baptist Church).  And both Jeff and Criss’ fathers served in the military.  Knowing firsthand the trials that veterans face in their lives after active duty, the Hastings began the non-profit organization with the goal of coming “alongside the military, veterans and their family members to provide comfort, support, resources, hope and help for the struggles they are facing.”

When Logan returned from his tours of duty in the Middle East with a Purple Heart and a medical discharge, he wanted to come alongside his parents and support the Warrior 180° Foundation by raising awareness for their cause.  Soon, he began making plans with a friend to take a trip and raise funds for the foundation.  That morphed into kayaking the Mississippi River – a feat that sounds daunting enough even when you don’t consider that Logan had a bad back and had never kayaked a day in his life.  Still, with his mind set on helping his fellow veterans, Logan made plans to set out on May 1 for the long journey down the Mississippi.

Those plans were nearly derailed when Logan’s friend and travel companion, Steven, was forced to back out of the trip before it even started.  Despite the setback, Logan was determined to continue with his mission, and was prepared to make the trip alone.  Fortunately, Jeff and Criss had already contemplated this contingency, prayed about it, and decided that if Logan asked, Jeff would accompany him down the river.

And so, on May 1, the two launched their kayaks from Itasca, Minnesota, the headwaters of the Mississippi River.  It was nearly two weeks before they saw another human being, and it was during that time that the father-son pair were able to truly appreciate God’s beauty.  “You couldn’t pay for time like this,” Jeff said, referring to the peaceful time outdoors, one-on-one with his son.  “There’s times when we’re struggling and hurting, and it’s painful. But we’ll pull over, get some shade, remember why we’re doing this, and keep on paddling.”

The pain and struggle of the trip are some of the very reasons Logan chose this kayaking adventure as a way to raise awareness for veterans struggling with PTSD.  “When I came home from Iraq and Afghanistan I had a lot of problems, and I solved those problems by myself. I went to alcohol and I drank a lot. And I finally got some help, before I got really bad,”  Logan shared.  So to demonstrate to his fellow veterans that he understood their struggles, Logan sought out a trip that would be a struggle in itself.  In his words, “I wanted to make this trip something that was not going to be easy.”  Jeff echoed this sentiment, adding: “I wanted to do something that’s hard, and that’s difficult, and that maybe even hurts, because my brothers and sisters are hurting, and I want them to know that I’m doing something difficult for them. And something that’s not easy, because they’re going through times that aren’t easy, and if we can team together and do this, then so can they.”

And so, in honor of their brothers and sisters that have served our country, Logan and Jeff Hastings (with Criss driving ahead of them in an RV), paddle 40-50 miles per day down the mighty Mississippi.  At the time this issue is in circulation, the father-son veteran duo will be nearing the end of their long journey.  But it certainly will not be the end of their crusade to raise awareness about PTSD among veterans.  If you want to learn more about their cause, go to warrior180.org, where you can donate to the organization.  You can also retrace their trip by checking out pictures, videos and stories on their Facebook page: @kayak4veterans.