Disabled military personnel who are part of Project Healing Waters, a nationwide organization for veterans, celebrated a week-long fly fishing retreat at a farewell dinner hosted by the Kodiak Chief Petty Officer’s Association at Buskin Beach House on Friday.
The organization began partnering with the Kodiak CPOA 10 years ago, when Chief Warrant Officer Dave Curran who was stationed in Kodiak with the Coast Guard wanted to give back to the veteran community after his brother died in combat.
“When he was deployed in Iraq we had planned to do a fishing trip. Unfortunately, in 2004 there was an incident. He was killed in action,” Curran said “It gave me the drive to want to do something to help out.”
Project Healing Waters aims to rehabilitate physically and emotionally disabled military personnel through fly fishing. Curran looks at the fly fishing program in Kodiak as a way to make up for the fishing trip he missed with his brother, he said.
Each year volunteer fly fisherman from the Kodiak CPOA volunteer to take six veterans fishing.
“We take them offshore fishing, we take them out to Saltery via ATVs and UTVs, and then we fly fished,” said Vic Laird, who runs Kodiak’s Project Healing Waters trip.
“We just have a ball getting to know these guys. It’s just about them relaxing through the week and enjoying (themselves).”
Laird took over the program in Kodiak from Curran eight years ago. He says he has two goals with this program: to make it a trip of a lifetime for the veterans and to make it the most sought-after Project Healing Waters trip.
“I think we’ve succeeded on both accounts,” Laird said.
Curran and Laird were clear that the trip would not be possible without community support.
“We get a lot of support from local businesses: Island Seafood; Mr. Frank Bishop, a local hunting guide; Moral, Welfare and Recreation, and the base,” Laird said. “Island Air volunteered their services to pick them (the veterans) up in Saltery.”
The six veterans who were part of the program on The Rock this year expressed how happy they were with the four-day fishing excursion.
“Nothing can compare to (this) experience. There’s no way anyone would believe that yesterday (Thursday) I probably pulled in 150 salmon. It’s just unreal,” Byron DeSerisy said.
They also said this trip to Kodiak was a way for them to rest, spend time in nature and forget about their everyday lives.
“It’s just one giant, long reset button,” said Mark Forster, a retired inflight refueler and intelligence service member.
Trip leader Les Mead, who used to be a participant in Project Healing Waters, said the program helped him emotionally and physically.
“Ultimately, this is a once in a lifetime trip for myself. I’ve always wanted to come to Kodiak,” Mead said. “Getting a chance to lead a group of guys on the river, smiling, being happy is one of the best things for me.”
Many of the participants said that during the fly fishing trip they felt as if they belonged and no longer felt like outsiders.
“Nobody treats you different. Nobody looks at you like there’s something wrong. You’re just a guy on a fishing trip… Especially with the Coast Guard folks. We all speak the same language,” Forster said. “A lot of places you go you’re an outlier.”