Coast Guard and Kodiak volunteers aid military veterans through outdoor recreation

 

Project healing Waters in Kodiak, Alaska

Volunteers and six military veterans arrive to the Saltery Creek for a day of fly fishing as part of Project Healing Waters on Kodiak Island, Alaska, July 31, 2013. Through the work and generosity of more than 40 volunteers from around Kodiak, the Chief Warrant Officers Association, Chief Petty Officers Association and Coast Guard Enlisted Association these veterans enjoyed a week of fishing in scenic Alaska as part of their rehabilitation following military service and armed combat. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Michele Skinner.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart Medal was chartered by an act of Congress in August 1953 to recognize the sacrifices of military servicemembers wounded in combat. Nearly 60 years to the day after the medal’s creation Coast Guard and community members in Kodiak, Alaska, hosted six recovering warriors and disabled veterans from the Army, Navy and National Guard for a week of relaxation and rehabilitation through Project Healing Waters.

“This year more than 40 volunteers from the Coast Guard and Kodiak community came together to make the event happen,” said Michele Skinner, a Coast Guard civilian employee with Coast Guard Base Kodiak. “We had so much support and it was highly successful, our best year yet, for our guests and volunteers. This type of support gives us the motivation not only to continue, but to grow the program.”

The Chief Petty Officer Association in Kodiak has been sponsoring the trip for five years. A lot of preparation goes into the trip including fundraising, logistics and requests for volunteers, not to mention the actual transport and fishing. The CPOA, Coast Guard Enlisted Association and the Chief Warrant Officers Association also put on dinners for the group.

“We rely on a great deal of help from our own ranks and volunteers from the community,” said Chief Petty Officer Russ Hazlett. “In addition to the many local Coast Guard folks who lend their talents, some of our big supporters from town are Frank Bishop, Dale Stratton, and Charlie Dorman. Frank Bishop is a local hunting guide who donates a buffalo hunt, which is raffled off to raise the bulk of the money for the trip. Dale Stratton provides ATV transportation for our guests to Saltery Cove to fish and camp. Charlie Dorman provided lodging for our guests while at Saltery Cove. Several local businesses donated time and resources as well from lunch to fish processing supplies.”

Project Healing Waters

Corey Collins, an Army National Guard veteran, Cory Thomas, a retired Army National Guard veteran, and John Johnston, a former Marine, return from fly fishing for sockeye salmon in the Saltery Creek July 31, 2013, on Kodiak Island, Alaska. The three men were part of a six-member group of veterans brought to Kodiak through Project Healing Waters to aid in their recovery and rehabilitation after serving in armed combat. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Michele Skinner.

This year the group spent two nights at Saltery Cove, which really meant three days of fishing there. Tucked on the southeast side of Ugak Bay on Kodiak Island, Saltery Cove is well known for excellent salmon and trout fishing. There’s no road to Saltery Cove so reaching it requires a float plane, boat or ATV. The veterans and their volunteer guides travelled 17 miles each way by ATV to reach the cove. The group also spent time aboard volunteer’s boats to deep-sea fish for halibut and rockfish. Each one of the veterans took home 100 pounds of fish and a week of stories and camaraderie.

“Every year we are part of changing six lives,” said Skinner. “You really get to know these guys over a week. These are six guys who put it all on the line. Hearing the stories they tell, they shouldn’t even be here with us anymore, but they came home. They all told us that this week meant so much to them. It really motivated them in their recovery and their goals to fully rejoin society. Making that kind of difference for someone is a rare opportunity.”

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc. is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing activities including education and outings. The program began in 2005 serving wounded military members at Walter Reed Medical Center before expanding nationwide to include 154 programs in 47 states. Groups throughout the United States participate. For more information about the project please visit www.projecthealingwaters.org.

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