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Meet John Cody Hardin of The Warrior’s Keep in McKinney

Today we’d like to introduce you to John Cody Hardin.

John Cody, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
From a young age, I knew I wanted to serve my country. My family had a long history of military service. When I was 12 my father sent me to the Marine Military Academy for the summer, down in Harlingen, Texas. I was getting into trouble a lot at home and school, so my parents thought this boot camp would “whip me into shape”. That summer changed my life and from that moment forward, I knew I was going to become a United States Marine.

I enlisted in 2004, the summer before my senior year and shipped out 2 weeks after high school graduation for Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. I spent the next 5 years serving as an AV-8B Harrier Avionics Technician for the Flying Nightmares of Marine Attack Squadron 513. During that time, I deployed overseas with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in 2007 and again in 2009 with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. In 2010, I was honorably discharged at the rank of Sergeant.

I decided to move back to Texas and immediately enrolled into college. After 4 years, I graduated from the University of North Texas with a bachelor’s in political science. My father had been a defense attorney for over 40 years and I had plans to follow in his footsteps. So, after college he hired me to work for him as a legal assistant, while I prepared for law school. I felt like I was on the right path, but something was still missing for me.

Life after the military was an emotional rollercoaster. Once the uniform comes off and the camaraderie, sense of purpose and responsibility you had in the military is gone, your life can start to feel meaningless. Like many other Veterans, I struggled with the transition back to civilian life and found it difficult to reconnect socially with others. There were good days when I thought I had everything figured out and dark days when I was completely lost. I did my best to focus on school and work, but that would only distract me for so long. Eventually, I discovered that a childhood pastime of mine would become my solace…getting lost outdoors. Hiking and getting outdoors became an outlet for me to decompress and escape my thoughts.

After working with my dad awhile, I was approached by a fellow Marine who presented the idea of starting a nonprofit organization for a veteran’s retreat. A few months later, The Warrior’s Keep was founded!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I found myself at a difficult crossroad in life. Ultimately, I made the decision to delay law school and focus my efforts on growing the organization, while continuing to work for my father. The nonprofit world was completely new to me, so I had a lot to learn and wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity.

Starting and operating a nonprofit successfully comes with many challenges. Most don’t last more than a few years because of those difficulties. It could be anything from lack of funding to just simply burnout. Since we are strictly a volunteer-based organization, with no paid positions, most everyone involved is either a full-time student or has a full-time job. Finding individuals that are passionate about the mission and motivated to help others is crucial to organizational success. It truly takes a special person to sacrifice their own time to serve others.

The organizational stress and constant learning on the fly are frustrating at times, but it comes with the territory. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way and sure I’ll make some more in the future. We learn from those lessons, fix the issue and move forward in a positive direction. I’m just grateful to have such an incredible support team behind me, making The Warrior’s Keep mission possible. It doesn’t work without a solid team effort!

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about The Warrior’s Keep – what should we know?
The one thing that’s unique about Texas, more specifically the DFW Metroplex, is that there is overwhelming support for the veteran community. Which is a good thing, because of the 1.5 million veterans that live in Texas, over a third of them live right here in the heart of Texas. Every veteran organization out there is doing their part to raise awareness or provide much needed services to the community.

At the time we started, I felt the need for more hands-on programs that involved veteran-led, peer-to-peer interactions, focused in an outdoor setting. Outdoor engagement activities have been shown to improve quality of life and allow veterans the opportunity to process and reflect on their experiences. Our belief is that sometimes the best medicine is nature’s medicine. We currently offer 3 programs: Vet-Ex Program (Veteran Excursions), Vet-Rec Program (Veteran Recreations) and the Vet-Connect Program.

The programs we have provide veterans with free access to outdoor activities and adventures that are designed to educate and assist with the difficulties of reconnecting socially, while achieving inner peace and healing of the mind.

A program that developed over time was the Vet-Connect Program. It was established to bring Veterans together from all generations, enrich those connections and provide sense of purpose, giving both older and younger Veterans a sense of unity. Every month we host a Veteran Luncheon at local assisted living residences and every quarter we host a Veteran’s Social, to provide vets the opportunity to connect, network and share their experiences with other veterans.

For the last 8 months, we have been developing an international program that will take a team of veterans to Tanzania and summit Mt. Kilimanjaro next summer! This once in a lifetime experience will challenge those veterans both mentally and physically. It is hoped that by completing the expedition, they will gain a sense of freedom from the difficulties they face on an ongoing basis back home and encourage them to continue to overcome whatever life puts in front of you.

Our motto at The Warrior’s Keep is our O.A.T.H., which stands for Outdoor Adventure Therapy for Heroes. It’s our belief that engaging in outdoor adventures with other veterans allows for real therapy to naturally take place in a neutral, safe environment.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
The Marine Corps instills many important traits and qualities, but none has been more critical than understanding the responsibilities that comes with leadership. It puts you in tough places when important decisions must be made to ensure overall mission success. The core values acquired from my time in service have played an important role in my overall success and for that I am grateful.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Ryan Ellibee

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