The Saratoga Sun -

By Liz Wood 

Web Exclusive: Fishing in healing waters: Veterans enjoy a day of fishing in the Platte Valley

 

Liz Wood

Randall Steiger shows the fish he caught at Tom Arthurs Ranch at Upper Creek Cedar Ranch near Saratoga. It was the first fish Stieger had caught in his life.

When a wounded soldier returns from war, life is anything but normal.

Regardless of the wound, whether obvious or hidden, it takes years to recover from the physical and emotional scars.

No one is more aware of that than Tony Seahorn, a Vietnam veteran.

This year was the third year that Platte Valley Trout Unlimited (PVTU), a group that Seahorn is active in, has invited wounded warriors to participate in a two-day fishing expedition.

The first day is spent at Upper Cedar Creek Ranch, where host Tom Arthur opens his ranch for the veterans to ride horses and fish in his lake.

For some, it is their first time on a horse. For others, it is the first time they will catch a fish.

There is a camaraderie among the men and women, who come to this event. It's a club that many do not want to belong to. They have seen the worst in war and are paying a price.

Nine veterans came to enjoy the fishing. Twelve were supposed to come, but three fell ill. Three of the veterans who participated this year came to the event last year.

They look forward to it all year.

This year, Project Healing Waters, of Cheyenne, an organization dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service members and disables veterans through fly fishing and associated activities, joined in the event. Volunteers from Healing Waters came to help and found a very organized group of people with the PVTU. They didn't have to do much, but enjoy the event along with the veterans they support.

Healing Waters sponsors tie-flying classes and rod-building classes during the year.

Orvis donated fly rods to Healing Waters to give to the veterans.

Wednesday afternoon, volunteers Steve Hays, of Saratoga, and Ben Whitfield, of Rawlins, put together fly rods from Orvis as the veterans received lessons on fly fishing.

Some of the veterans try fly-fishing, but eventually opt for the reel. The fish are biting in the deeper waters and the veterans are all about catching fish.

Suzanne Bremer, of Wellington, Colo., is an Army Gulf War Veteran. Whitfield works with her, patiently teaching her how to use a fly rod. Her giggles are contagious as she learns how to whip the fly line onto the grass. After several practices, Whitfield grabs the line, so Bremer knows what it feels like when there is a fish on the line.

She is ready to cast into the water.

Fly-fishing takes a lot of skill and patience. Bremer seems to have both, but despite several attempts, she doesn't catch a fish Wednesday night.

On the other side of the lake, Randall Steiger, an Iraq War veteran, is hooting and hollering. He has caught his very first fish. Steiger served in the 11th Calvary and now lives in Cheyenne. He has never fished before and is very excited. Steiger was using a reel rod to catch his fish.

The reel fishermen and women line up along side where Steiger was fishing, because that is where the fish are biting.

Some of the veterans are relaxing at the dining area watching the fun. They will all try their luck Thursday when they float the river.

The veterans eat breakfast at the Saratoga Resort & Spa, where they are staying, before heading out to Treasure Island.

Volunteers from PTVU bring their boats so the veterans can fish. Many of the veterans chose to fish with the reel while a few used the fly rod.

Ten boats load into the water with one of two veterans and a guide.

They break for lunch at the Old Baldy Cookout spot. The fishing is not so good. The weather is hot, the river is low and many of the veterans are tired.

Half of them decided to finish the day, determined to catch a fish.

The other half returns to the Resort & Spa and wait for dinner.

Mike St. Clair, an Army Veteran who served from 2006 to 2009 and works at the Veterans Administration Hospital finished the day on Hays boat. St. Clair used a fly rod and, with encouragement from Hays, his skills improved.

Hays, from time to time, graduates to different flies. Flies that this writer was not allowed to share.

Eventually, Hays catches his first fish of the day. Shortly after, another bites, but he loses him.

Hays rows the boat back and forth to the deeper and cooler pockets, but the fish are not biting now.

Perhaps it is because there is a fresh hatch and plenty of food for the fish.

The fishermen finally arrive into town, later than anticipated. Their day is not complete. A dinner is waiting.

They return to the Saratoga Resort & Spa to visit with the people who made this event possible.

The veterans get their opportunity to show their appreciation to the volunteers who plan all year long to give them a couple of days of normalcy.

Seahorn tells them he knows that these two days will not end their suffering. He said he hoped that he Wounded Warrior Event gave them some relief from their day-to-day battle.

The other veterans who participated were Jodi Smith, a flight nurse who just returned from Afghanistan. She works as an emergency room nurse at the VA and is in the Wyoming National Guard. Her unit rotates overseas every 16 months.

Ken Messick, of Cheyenne, is an Army veteran and served in Korea and Vietnam. Robert Cunningham is from Ft. Collins, Colo., and is an Army Vietnam veteran.

Roger Thimm, of Cheyenne, is with the Healing Water Program and is an Air Force Vietnam veteran. He teaches the fly tying classes and helps with the rod building classes.

Dave Evans, of Cheyenne is a Navy veteran.

Mel Lee served in the Third Recon in the First Marines in Vietnam.

Travis Jaeckel is an Army veteran and served in the war in Panama and the first Gulf War.

James Chaney, a Iraq veteran and Scott Daniels, another veteran.

This was Jaeckel's, Chaney's and Daniels' second time to participate in the Wounded Warrior Event.

 

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