“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.” – Bob Dylan
I firmly believe that the obligations of community do not contradict independence. What I have seen, in fact, is that when strong, independent men and women dedicate themselves to service, communities emerge.
On this Independence Day, we honor those who have made a commitment to their communities, and the nation, the centerpiece of their lives. Over the past few months, the Trout Unlimited Service Partnership restarted its face-to-face outings with members of the military and first-responder communities. I’ve seen anew the bonds of friendships forged in the TU community.
Our nation is now finishing its 245th trip around the sun. There are few times in that history when the foundational precept that strong communities are built from the independent contributions of individuals has been so tested. Yet through the TU Service Partnership, individuals of different professional backgrounds, ethnicities, genders and political beliefs from across the country have again shown that Americans will still come together in beneficial ways.
After spending time with so many veterans, active duty service members, doctors, nurses, therapists, emergency medical technicians, law enforcement officers and members of the fire service — and seeing them build lasting connections with each other — my faith in the strength and value of communities TU builds around fishing and conservation is renewed.
The TU Service Partnership’s annual engagement season began in April with an outing at Big Hunting Creek in Thurmont, Md. We spent a day there with the U.S. Naval Academy’s Fishing and Conservation Club. Working with these men and women — each of whom decided to serve our country after a lifetime in which the Department of Defense was at war — was truly inspiring.
As I mentioned then, every TU chapter should recognize how easily they can replicate similar engagements. There are over 1,700 colleges and universities nationwide with Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs. There are more than 3,000 high schools offer Junior ROTC for students interested in future military service. Every student in these programs is eligible for a free one-year introductory membership to Trout Unlimited through the TU Service Partnership, and can become future leaders within TU as they begin their military careers.
Over Memorial Day Weekend, the Service Partnership then hosted its first Women’s Trip to the Raritan Inn along the beautifully restored banks of the South Branch of the Raritan River in New Jersey. Women currently comprise over 30 percent of the fly-fishing community and more women anglers hit the water each year. Yet TU’s membership falls dramatically short of that representation for women.
It was an honor to spend time with such an accomplished group who have dedicated their lives to service. I watched as independent women from the Department of Defense, a federal law enforcement agency, the nursing community, and the New Jersey Community Emergency Response Team — unknown to each other hours before — began sharing their common crucibles of sacrifice, laughed at shared experiences and shed tears over losses and exhaustions that were all too familiar. I also watched their personal spirits reinvigorated through time spent streamside together, learning to cast, landing a first fish, and even catching a rock.
Each of them is now a fly fisher, and more importantly an active member of Trout Unlimited engaged in their communities.
Most recently, the TU Service Partnership and Friends of the Upper Delaware River hosted a group of couples from the military, fire service, and medical communities at the West Branch Angler and Resort in Hancock, N.Y., for several days of fishing along the Upper Delaware River. Again, a mix of independent individuals from across the country — whose lives have shared common crucibles of service and sacrifice — found community together streamside, even through an outright downpour.
To quote one of the participants: “Keep this going! Couple involvement is so healing and releases deep stressors that have been buried for a long time. All we had to worry about for one week is learning how to fly fish, with a whole lot of laughter. That was priceless. Again, thank you!”
The life-changing individual benefits of participating in Trout Unlimited’s fishing and conservation activities cannot be overstated. It is apparent that TU’s — and our nation’s — communities can reinvigorate by reaching out to, and engaging those in the fire service, medical, military and law enforcement communities. There is no better win-win situation for Trout Unlimited, our local communities, and our nation than honoring those who serve through the TU Service Partnership and having them continue their legacy of service through Trout Unlimited. Happy Independence Day to all.