Coming home to the river

By Chris Wood

Terry Edwards deployed five times for the Air Force. When his children were younger he deployed overseas, then came a tour in Kuwait. Later, came two tours in Iraq. His final deployment was in southwest Asia.

Terry told me, “There is always a transition in coming home. Things stay with you, stick in your head.” Before his last deployment, Terry told me how he would “put myself in a place just to get away. But the pressure would build, and I would just close myself off. I’d work out all day. Or, go outside and stay on my tractor all day.”

Terry’s experiences are not unique to returning veterans except for the fact that his coping methods may have been less unhealthy than those that turn to drugs or alcohol to help deal with the challenging “transition” of moving from the battle front to the homefront.

Knowing how challenging re-integration could be for him, Terry’s spouse signed him up for an Orvis Fly-fishing Class in Branson, Mo. The Orvis guys turned Terry onto Trout Unlimited. Terry filed that away and began to fish on his own.

With the addiction of a new convert, he fished every day for 30 days. Like every angler, he struggled with casting, knots, fishing the wrong bugs, fishing the wrong water, poor mending, the list goes on. “After a few hours, a few of the regular anglers on the river would come over, and say ‘Hey, try this bug.’ Or, ‘See that seam over there, that’s where you want to cast.’”

The knots became less frequent and the fish more frequent. The “regular anglers” were TU members of Oklahoma chapter 420.

Terry decided to attend a chapter meeting. He was met by a greeter at the door who took him around and introduced hm to everyone else. TU trustee, and former Oklahoma chapter president, Scott Hood, was looking for volunteers to help with Trout in the Classroom. Terry’s spouse is a teacher, so he raised his hand. The rest is history. Terry is now the vice-president of the new Arklahoma chapter in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

The Oklahoma and Arklahoma chapters are among the more than 200 chapters around the country that participate in the Veterans Service Partnership. The VSP works with anyone who wants to help veterans and their families to heal, to fish, to find community through a chapter, or meaning through the Trout Unlimited mission.

Terry says, “No one wants to be labeled. We don’t want people poking inside our head. Fly fishing is helpful without leaving a stigma. Many veterans who are struggling should call the VA, but many will not do it. If we can get them out on the water, they will be rejuvenated. Fly fishing and being a part of the TU family can bring peace.”

If you know a veteran who may want to fish, take them out on the water. Take them to a TU meeting. As Terry’s story proves, it will not only help the veteran, it will help TU, too.

“Never forget.”

By Chris Wood. Chris has worked at TU for 22 years, and is not the best angler, but he is among the most earnest.