For over 15 years now the Wounded Warrior Project has helped wounded post-9/11 military members in all aspects of their recovery and path to normalcy and success.
According to WWP, more than 52,000 servicemen and women have been physically injured in recent military conflicts. 500,000 are living with invisible wounds ranging from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder; and 320,000 are experiencing debilitating brain trauma.
WWP has recognized that although advancements in technology and medicine save lives, the quality of those lives might be profoundly altered thereafter.
With the support of WWP’s staff, its community of donors and volunteers, and its team members and their families, WWP seeks to give a voice to the needs of wounded warriors, and empower them to begin the journey to recovery.
For the last nine years, WWP has conducted an Annual Warrior Survey to gain understanding of the challenges more than 3 million post-9/11 veterans face every day.
In 2018, 33,067 warriors participated, making it the largest, most statistically relevant survey of its kind.
It laid the foundation for modern methods of veteran care, and is a critical resource in addressing the evolving needs of warriors.
One of the consistent forms of feedback WWP got was concerning activities and social events which serve to help wounded warriors meet one another and form friendships. Many observed while there was an abundance of opportunities for such things in the San Antonio area where WWP is headquartered and where many critically injured go for care (at Brooke Army Medical Center), once members left the San Antonio area, opportunities greatly decreased.
This is where Kristin Taddeo, WWP Outreach Specialist, sprang into action and began researching opportunities for WWP members beyond San Antonio.
Due to the high concentration of WWP members in the Fort Hood area, this was one area she paid particular attention to.
My wife and I shared a lunch with Taddeo in early December and laid the groundwork for the first WWP fishing excursion. That adventure took place on Friday, Jan. 18. On that foggy, cool morning, six WWP members arrived punctually at the Arrowhead Point boat ramp on Belton Lake ready for action.
This group included members from each of the branches of the military. Joining me were Hector Licon (Army), Tito Cortez (Army), Antonio Oquendo (Army), Devon Wikstrom (Air Force), Doc Richardson (Navy), and Carlos Espinosa (Marine Corps).
Because of recent flooding, the normally helpful courtesy dock was inaccessible, so the men had to step into the boat from over the bow after I beached the boat along the unimproved shoreline. Those who were more able helped those who were less able overcome the obstacle and we left land behind in search of fish.
Foggy conditions normally do not bode well for fishing, especially if accompanied by calm winds. This particular morning the fog was accompanied by a light southeast breeze. This proved to be enough to get the fish into a feeding mood just as the sun rose, even though it was obscured by the fog.
Over the course of the four-hour, half-day trip, we fished in four distinct locations and used three different tactics including smoking, easing and snap-jigging.
Soon after the fog began to clear and visibility increased, I was able to use my onboard optics to glass for bird action and immediately picked up on some helpful activity generated by a flock of Forster’s terns.
About 20 of these birds were working over about an acre of water roughly 34 feet deep. As I got to the action and began to study sonar, it was clear that there were a lot of gamefish in the vicinity and that they were feeding hard in the lower half of the water column.
Two additional episodes of helpful bird action helped keep us in the vicinity of aggressively feeding fish for most of the last two hours of the trip.
Over the course of the morning, these six veterans amassed a catch of 184 fish including white bass, hybrid striped bass, freshwater drum and largemouth bass. Our bait of choice was a 3/8-ounce slab of my own design, rigged with a Hazy Eye Stinger hook. This trip’s largest fish was landed by Wikstrom, a native of Iowa. He landed a 6.75-pound freshwater drum.
In addition to this fishing trip, WWP has also recently coordinated local veterans’ breakfasts, and a dining experience for members and their families at a winery in Florence. WWP also organizes bike rides, online gaming, skiing events, all manner of adaptive sports events, and much, much more.
To become a part of WWP, check on upcoming events, or just learn more about the services and opportunities to serve provided by WWP, go to www.woundedwarriorproject.org.