Wounded warriors are the heroes among us. Yet so often, they suffer in silence. In Episode 10, we interviewed Dave Kumlien, Trout Unlimited’s Veterans Service Partnership Western Coordinator, about his involvement with the Warriors and Quiet Waters Project. Here is a first-hand account from Jessica B., wife of a wounded warrior, about the impact a couples’ fly fishing trip had on her husband.
I am grateful to Trout Unlimited Veterans Service Partnership for their work, their mission, and their devotion to helping Veterans and families like us. Thank you for recognizing that there is a need, and providing a relaxing and therapeutic aid through fly fishing, to help our service members find a peaceful distraction from whatever they may be facing. I have never felt so uplifted by a single group of people as I did when my husband and I were privileged to participate in a couple’s fly fishing trip to Silvertip Ranch [just north of Yellowstone National Park] through the Veterans Service Partnership
My husband, Damein, served in the Army nine years and endured three combat tours with the 82nd Airborne division. Being the leader that he is, he carried the burden from his deployments along with the demands of our family until it became too much to bear. I watched my husband slowly disengage from us, become distant, and wrestle with matters that left him sleepless and bothered. He was hurting.
As a spouse, it is hard to watch the person you love the most go through something you can’t fix. The more I tried to expose the problems, the longer the lengths he went to hide and dismiss them. He was trying to protect us. Damein was trying to figure out how to live with what happened, while I was trying to figure out how to deal with our newly delicate situation.
We moved back to our home state of South Carolina after Damein was medically discharged from the Army. I could tell that he was struggling with all of the free time that retirement had granted him. Luckily, Damein was introduced to a local Project Healing Waters program run by the Mountain Bridge Trout Unlimited Chapter in Greenville, South Carolina. These folks reintroduced him to fly fishing. As Damein got more involved, I could see that there was energy to his voice. For the first time in a long time, he was excited to talk to me about fly fishing.
He told me one night about the opportunity to go to Montana to do some fly fishing with Trout Unlimited Veterans Services Partnership. It was a couples’ trip. The first thing that came out of my mouth was, “Are you sure I can go?” The second thing I said was, “I’ve never cast a fly rod in my life!” Soon after that we left for Montana.
I watched Damein on that trip. I watched him casting in the water. I watched him bubble with pride when he caught his first cutthroat trout. I watched stress roll off his body, and something was very different, but so very familiar. I saw my husband return to who he was—before his life had been affected by his time in combat.
I understood the serenity, the focus, and the silent satisfaction that he found in fly fishing. He was enjoying life, he was enjoying people, and he was surrounded by the most beautiful landscape we had ever seen. It was a sight for my eyes to behold, and I witnessed there what a quiet river and a fly rod, could do for your soul. It was a time of reflecting and reconnecting for us, and I feel like we both had the opportunity to decompress, enjoy each other, and just breathe.
We shared an amazing week with couples who had felt, in one way or another, the same connection to the river that we did. In the evenings, we sat around a fire, we laughed and we cried, sharing stories about the past, stories about the present, and I fell in love with this program. I fell in love with the compassion and the heart behind the work that Trout Unlimited and their partners are doing for our Veterans and their families. I fell in love with the guides who devoted themselves to work with each Veterans’ sensitive needs. I fell in love with the comradery and the brotherhood among the Veterans. I fell in love with the way it brought spouses together, so we could share our husbands’ enjoyment and healing.
We left Montana with a renewed energy for our relationship and in turn, it has reflected beautifully on our family. I hope this program will continue to make a difference in the lives or our nation’s Veterans and their families.