This story was written by Warren Price (SSG. Ret.) from Idaho, who became our friend and for whom fly fishing was a life-saver, too.
Sitting down to dinner with my family on the 5th of July, our meal was interrupted by a massive explosion. My wife and kids said I looked like a deer in the headlights. I ran to the door, flung it open, and looked up and down the street in time to see the smoke dissipating 50 yards from my porch. Only it wasn’t smoke–it was steam from a lightning strike on the asphalt.
I was, however, no longer in the present, at my front door; instead I was transported across time and space to Balad, Iraq, April 12, 2004 as a barrage of rockets and mortars hit the building I had just entered. I re-lived the smoke, sights, and smells of that awful day when 17 people were wounded and 2 lost their lives. As a medic, I had seen one of the latter. His empty final words echo in my mind; “I guess I picked the wrong day to get shaving cream”. I can’t help feeling responsible for letting him die, because I got there a few seconds late. My soul is wracked with sorrow and regret as tears spring to my eyes for the millionth time.
There’s an old saying that, in war “the lucky ones die”. This is my reality. I am coming to grips with the truth that while I left Iraq in 2005…Iraq never left me; and according to my psychiatrist, it never will. At times the flashbacks weigh me down with reminders of my failures as I watched other soldiers die, and I feel like Atlas must have, with the weight of the world on my shoulders. I struggle daily with the constant cacophony of intrusive thoughts, images, and reminders of war I can’t control; which quickly spiral into anxiety, depression or thoughts of suicide. It’s moments like this I wish I could just shrug and make the memories go away.
So, I head to the nearest river in search of peace and quiet, and something happens when I get knee-deep in the water somewhere. I see the wind as it whispers through the aspens; hear the cleansing gurgle of water rushing over rocks; and feel the force of the water embracing me through my waders.
I read somewhere that the voice of God is “as the sound of rushing waters”. And you know what? When I get into the thick of nature, among the pines, great oaks, and aspens; below the sparrow, osprey, and eagle; into the stream, river, or lake; I believe He speaks to me. As I throw my line upstream and carefully watch as it sweeps past me on the flow. I focus on my tiny fly and repeat the process again and again hoping to see the water break as the fly is sucked down by a king-sized trout. In that moment, only me and my fly exist in the world; everything else disappears. This is when God speaks on word to me: peace.
If I can’t get to the water, I pull out my vice instead and start tying. As I focus on a size 22 hook, fine thread, feathers, and dubbing; all the bad juju vanishes. I cherish these moments most when the horrible memories of war are absent and there is simply peace.
If you want to know the impact fishing or being in nature have on veterans and their families; it heals the scars that war leaves on our body, mind, and spirit. It can recharge emotional batteries, and even give us the will to live. When 22 veterans take their lives every day in America, shouldn’t we do everything to save those lives? If someone hadn’t taken me fly fishing in my darkest hour I would have been just another sad statistic; one of the 22 a day. But, my family still has me in their lives because someone saw the impact it could have. Fly fishing gave me back the will to live. Fly fishing, literally, saved my life. If it can do that for one veteran, how much greater an impact could we have if more veterans were introduced to it before they reached the end of their ropes?