By: Joshua “Mek” Evans – Army Bass Anglers Coalition Pro Staff
First appeared in the Spring Issue of Kayak Bass Fishing Magazine
Imagine being a young Soldier on the front lines and missing the things dearest to you as chaos consumes the world around you. Whether it’s the smell of your wife’s hair after she’s gotten out of the shower, the smile on your daughter’s face when she catches her first fish, or something as simple as sitting at your favorite pond, the thoughts and images are draped across your mind daily. You are constantly just wanting to be home to experience those things and all the while, enduring that which no person should ever have to go through. Now imagine being home again where you should be able to enjoy those sites, sounds and scents, only you can’t. Instead, all you can do is relive the nightmare that was your reality for 12 to 15 months. Anger, frustration, and suicidal thoughts replace the jokes, laughter, and affection your family and friends were once accustomed to. This is the reality that far too many combat veterans face on a daily basis.
So now you may ask, “What does this have to do with fishing or me for that matter.” The answer is simple, EVERYTHING. Many kayak anglers paddle because of the freedom and peace of mind it provides them while on the water. The everyday stressors of life and trying to make it melt away the second that first stroke cuts through the water. One’s focus goes from “Man, I have to pay the car and mortgage bill today” to “I think this watermelon seed Texas-rigged ribbon tail will crush the bass on that laydown.” While those stressors and responsibilities don’t completely disappear, they aren’t your priority when you’re on the water. Instead, you are.
Now, think back to that young Soldier I mentioned earlier and how their reality is not what it should be anymore. After defending our freedoms and paying for it with their sense of normalcy or sanity in many cases, should they have to go it alone in life? I am no doctor or counselor but, I would have to say no. This is where you and I come in and have the opportunity to pay them back for their sacrifices. There is an amazing organization called Heroes on the Water (HOW) that was founded by Jim Dolan specifically to help our veterans. Whether it be a young warrior like the one previously described, or a Vietnam era veteran that still fights with their personal demons, HOW can make a difference in their life.
Many of you may have seen Heroes on the Water decals on boats, but never really knew what we do. In short, wounded warriors are invited to spend a day on the water relaxing. All gear is prepared prior to launch time, the logistics associated with fishing a particular location are taken care of by volunteers, and even lunch at the conclusion of the day is handled and awaiting participants once they are done wetting a line. Every aspect of the event is planned, prepared, and executed in such a way so as to allow the warriors to focus on one thing, relaxation. The freedom and peace of mind of paddling is theirs to enjoy. Whether their goal is to catch the biggest fish in the lake or just lounge and soak up the sights, sounds, and sun, it is their choice. Many of these folks spend countless hours in hospitals and/or therapy, so imagine how much a day like this means to them.
As an Army Bass Angler, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to volunteering with my local Maryland chapter of Heroes on the Water and the therapeutic benefits of their program just over a year ago. I showed up for an event and instantly felt like part of the family. During my 9 ½ years spent on Active Duty, I have known a lot of guys and girls that could have really benefitted from a day on the water with HOW (myself included). I’ve witnessed first-hand the ways volunteering as a fishing guide and mentor has touched the people we’ve taken out. I have seen the relief and joy on their faces, all from something as simple as catching a 12” bass. While I was medically discharged from service recently, I feel as though my injuries pale in comparison to many of our participants. Volunteering with Heroes on the Water has helped me keep things in my life in perspective and reminds me daily that life could always be harder. It has positively impacted me and my family’s lives beyond what mere words could ever describe. If you have not already done so, I ask that you check out your local chapter of Heroes on the Water and see what you can do to help. In doing so, you may just save someone’s life and possibly your own. Thanks for your time and as always, tight lines and sharp minds.