Out of adversity comes strength

By Brad Craven – Director and Founder of WFAW – Warriors for African Wildlife

I served in the U.S. Navy for 4 years 2003-2007 deploying to Iraq and Korea. When I returned home I struggled as many Veterans do. I coached and trained my younger brother Sam who has Cerebral Palsy and slight autism in the seated shot put and discus in the Paralympics. Sam won gold and silver medals in the 2011 Parapan Games. Because of Sam’s Cerebral Palsy and the constant pressure from throwing heavy weights Sam’s throwing hip degenerated rather quickly to the point where he now needs a hip replacement at 34. Sam no longer could compete. Along with my struggles and PTSD, from Iraq I felt guilty about my brother as if I had let him down somehow. I still care for my brother when I’m home and we still work out together, and he has actually helped me train for Warriors for African Wildlife’s first deployment with the College.

This idea all started way back when, when I went to Africa in 2016 volunteering once or twice a year for one to two months at a time. I truly fell in love with Africa the animals, the bush, and the cause of African wildlife conservation and got to grips with anti-poaching needs. My second trip I trained and operated with an anti-poaching unit; and I thought to myself I have to share this with other Veterans.

In Iraq it wasn’t the ones that made it, it was the ones that I and all other Veterans – whether you are in the U.S. Military or not – couldn’t save.  Africa gave me back my mission driven purpose. In my almost six years of experience in Africa going on anti-poaching patrols with no more than a “panga” by my side, and seeing and hearing from locals how other foreign operative organizations were doing it wrong, started me thinking.   So much funding was being lost from the U.S. and really not making a difference on the ground. Many local Africans and organizations also became disillusioned by all the promises. I decided to start Warriors for African Wildlife (WFAW) and immediately started looking for a way to get U.S. Military Veterans legally certified in African wildlife conservation and anti-poaching by local African wildlife conservation and anti-poaching experts.

That’s when a friend and bush ranger from South Africa told me about Ivan Carter. So I started messaging Ivan on social media. One day Ivan responded with “where are you operating?” I said nowhere at the moment but I have started this organization in the hopes of filling a need in African wildlife conservation and anti-poaching with U.S. Military Veterans especially given their skills and discipline. I wanted to help Veterans and the communities of Africa but I wanted to do it the right and legal way and bring resources and money to local African Wildlife conservation and anti-poaching organizations. So Ivan gave me his number and said “I help sponsor this Wildlife College where we can possibly bring Veterans in to be trained so let me chat to the CEO, Theresa Sowry”.  

Ivan and I then started working together to bring the idea to fruition. The idea being to train at the College, thereby getting legally certified in African wildlife conservation and anti-poaching. This would then possibly give us the opportunity to deploy to different conservation and anti-poaching initiatives across Africa thereby hopefully making a real difference.

In addition, helping heal Veterans unseen wounds by getting our mission-driven purpose back was paramount.  And what better way than training and operating whilst protecting and conserving African wildlife? This mission would in turn bring funding and resources to local African Wildlife conservation and anti-poaching organizations including the College, whilst also giving back to local African communities.

Right now, we are living that dream and I am so excited by what the future holds.

Part of this is the WFAW non-tactical Disabled Veterans side.  This includes disabled Veterans, Older Veterans, and Veterans who have combat fatigue or no longer want to operate for a variety of reasons. Giving these Veterans healing in coming to Africa to support conservation and being a part of animal relocations, tranquilizing, collaring, veterinary checks, endangered species sanctuaries, anything in African Wildlife conservation other than being on the front line is what we are aiming at.

Our sincere thanks must be extended to Ivan, and the entire College team for having us. Together I know we will make many differences that we will all be very proud of.