JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- For many of America's war-torn and disabled veterans, adjusting to life as a wounded warrior can be the mental and physical journey of a thousand miles. Through learning the art and craft of fly tying and fishing, Soldiers assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion here, are able to find peace and "Healing Waters" in the eye of rehabilitation's storm.
Some of the Soldiers who end up at the WTB are injured combat veterans. Here, they receive comprehensive medical care to meet their physical needs, as well as the respect, dignity and compassion befitting a hero. Here, each one begins a very personal journey -- one of healing -- from the physical and emotional scars of war.
As a warrior, each of these Soldiers is on a mission not only to heal, but also to transition either back to duty, or else to continue on as a veteran in their home communities.
For many of these veterans, however, the emotional struggles of adjusting to life with disabilities can exact a devastating toll. It is at this point, that Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc., comes through in the clutch.
As a nonprofit organization, its mission is one of dedication to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled military active duty personnel and medically retired veterans.
Through fly tying and rod building instruction, fly casting and fishing excursions, participants with all manners of injury learn to tap into the magical healing properties of the great outdoors.
For those who take advantage of it, Project Healing Waters teaches a new skill set, paving a way for lasting peace and emotional relief to help last a lifetime.
Each Tuesday, 3-7 p.m., in a conference room at the WTB, instructors teach wounded veterans in the gentle, soothing art of fly tying.
"You can easily get addicted to it," said Jeffrey Thompson, a medically retired Soldier who lives in Port Orchard, Wash.
Thompson shows up like clockwork every Tuesday afternoon and has been fishing for a while now. He was medically retired in September of this year after losing a portion of his left hand to a rocket-propelled grenade as it blasted in through a window of the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle he was riding in.
Thompson, as well as other Soldiers of the 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, were returning from an escort run in Kunar province, Afghanistan.
"Tying these flies and then being able to take them to the river and watch them work as I'm standing there in water up to my waist is so calming -- so peaceful -- and it helps keep me out of the bars," Thompson said. "It has me fishing. So when I have to wake up early and go fishing, I won't go to the bars. What's really huge for me, is that I used to day dream a lot about combat. Now, I do more daydreaming about fishing. It's one of the best things that has happened to me since I left combat."
Chuck Tye is the Northwest Regional coordinator for Project Healing Waters, as well as the instructor on Tuesdays. He is a retired Marine Corps infantry officer, who says he can't think of another job he'd rather have. Having once been a fly fishing instructor for world renown Maine outfitter, L.L. Bean, Tye is perhaps, perfect for the job.
"A number of these guys have been doing this so long now that they're great instructors of the art, themselves," said Tye. "It's just amazing to watch, as a new Soldier comes to our group, sometimes hesitantly at first, and then to see the positive change that begins to develop in them as they start to gain confidence in tying these flies; and there's an obvious peace that comes with that. It's a wonderful tool for taking their minds off some of the not so wonderful things that they each must deal with."
What began in 1984, as an opportunity for a few wounded warriors at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., has grownd into more than 140 programs nationwide. For many of this nations hurting and healing combat heroes, Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing is making a difference.