When I left the Marine Corps in 1986, I had a difficult time adjusting back into civilian life. I spent a lot of time in the backcountry – backpacking, hiking, hunting and fishing. It reconnected me to the natural world, and sanity, and helped me heal. Fortunately, my father was an avid outdoorsman and I had gained experience, knowledge and skills from him while growing up. Still, it would have been helpful if programs had existed to help veterans with such things. Today there is.
Project Healing Waters, a Maryland-based organization, provides physical and emotional rehabilitation for veterans through fishing, fly tying and rod building. TU has played a major role in helping with their efforts.
On Sunday, April 15, TU California (TUCA) volunteers Mike Caltagirone, of the Sagebrush Chapter, and Matt Hargrave, of the Truckee Chapter, joined with TUCA staff members Dave Lass and Sam Davidson to take veterans fishing on the East Walker River, in eastern California near the Nevada border. The veterans, all from southern California, are part of the Vet Voice Foundation (VVF), which helps veterans become leaders in various causes, including conservation.
“The outdoors is an intrinsic part of America’s legacy,” says Mark Starr, the Program Director for VVF who was along for the trip. An Army veteran of Iraq, and a Purple Heart recipient, Starr says our public lands not only provide clean air and drinking water, but helps veterans integrate back into civilian society and find peace and calmness. “For many who have served multiple combat tours, this is a lifeline.”
Jonathan Ervin, an Air Force veteran who served in Iraq (who was also long for the trip) agrees: “The War Zone is a battleground of victory and defeat, life and death. But it is also a time when you are tested by loneliness and a desire to return home,” he says. “Getting outdoors to hike, hunt and fish can provide peace and tranquility and calm the soul.”
Accompanying Starr and Ervin was Vitali Mostovoj, who spent 25 years in the Air Force, and Army veteran Joshua Bunce, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bunce says the outdoors provides him with a place of “spiritual and mental readjustment through recreation and beauty.”
All four of the veterans are actively working to protect parts of the Mojave Desert and other special, wild places near their homes in southern California.
Scott Freeman and Andrew Sears of Walker River Outfitters came along and donated their
time, guiding expertise and equipment. Jim Reid, of Ken’s Sporting Goods in Bridgeport, California, also donated equipment.
In addition to fishing the East Walker, the group also toured the nearby Bodie Hills, an area TU is working to protect, to check out Arastra and Rough Creeks, both tributaries to the East Walker. Rough Creek provided historic spawning habitat for Lahontan Cutthroat, now listed as threatened on the Endangered Species List, and is a critical part of federal recovery plan efforts for the species.
“It was a great day! We got to take these guys fishing and show them some of the important conservation work we are doing,” said TU’s Sam Davidson. “TU feels strongly about supporting our military, and this kind of event is a great way to help our vets experience some of our best trout streams and wild places.”