Outdoor Activities has been an integral part of our Operation Wounded Care since 2013. Many veterans enjoy fishing and hunting and tell us it brings them peace to be outdoors with Mother Nature. AaSP has partnered with other military and veteran-oriented organizations such as Project Healing Waters and Trout Unlimited’s Veteran Service Program to provide premium outdoor respite activities for disabled veterans involving fly-fishing and hunting.

In one such fly fishing event last year, Joe Mahan, a participant from Montachusetts Veterans Outreach Center in Gardner, MA, shared some of his experiences with us:

“During the period May 15-19, 2023, 11 veterans and their mentors were provided by AaSP with hotel lodging and an opportunity to fly fish in the Catskills. This in and of itself is a dream trip that not many can experience. We travelled to New York and settled into the hotel with the assigned roommates. We were briefed what to expect and what time to be where. Pretty straight forward stuff. We fished. We ate (a lot). We toured the Museum. Pretty standard stuff for an outing of this kind. That’s the stuff you can expect. Then there’s the other stuff.”

“At 9pm, five veterans gathered in the currently closed hotel breakfast area just to tie some flies. Then, a stranger walks in with a guitar and a story. He talked to us and played for us for about an hour. He was a fly fisherman also. He told us, vaguely, his favorite spots and what to fish there. We told him who we were, and he was honored to play for such a group as ours. We end up all telling our stories to this travelling musician fisherman. All our stories of who we are and how we arrived at this place. There were several moments where emotions tried to get the better of us. All of us. Him as well. It was nice to get a chance for a civilian to get to hear and appreciate the real people behind “thank you for your service.”

“The next day, half of our group fished at the DeBruce Fly Fishing Club (above), a private club on the Willowemoc Creek, with a lengthy history of famous, and not so famous members. Guides and Club members helping us and teaching us. We fished private property. Secret water known only to members and landowners. I had the chance to sit in the lodge for over an hour, in front of a very large stone fireplace, and listened to a member of the club tell its history. He showed me photos and articles from long ago. He told the stories of the taxidermy fish on the walls. It was an honor just to listen to him. The other half of our group were treated to float trips down the West Branch of the Delaware River in four drift boats. That evening we broke bread at a local restaurant to tell our fish stories. The following day, the other half of the group floated the big river and the others fished public water on the Willowemoc Creek. Afterwards, another dinner at Northern Farmhouse Pasta in Roscoe, NY, a local restaurant that graciously opened on their day off just for our group.”

“During this trip there are always conversations. They start innocently enough about fishing. They evolve into “where did you serve?” Which always leads to the story of why you are in a group of disabled veterans. While the stories vary from veteran to veteran, the results are always the same. Gratitude and thanks. The people who provide all these services, gifts, classes, coaching and kindness are thankful for us, the veteran. They say so in everything they do. Their patience every time I put another fly into the brush. The encouragement should I hook on to a fish. The effort they put into making sure we get the chance to be on the water. They value us and our service.”

“I want to thank all the people who take time out of their lives to help others. It’s important work that you do. We, as veterans, appreciate the sacrifices you make on our behalf. Going out of their way to help means more than words can describe. We need a little help to do things we used to be able to do on our own. And people like you hold out your hand and help us stand up again.”

“We are grateful.”

We couldn’t say it any better. Thanks Joe.

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