Project Healing Waters

By Trey Lewis

“The person who goes and the person who comes back are not the same. That’s just how it works. Even now that I’m back and everyone says I can get back to being normal, I’m still trying to figure out what exactly ‘normal’ is.”

When my brother e-mailed me this after returning from a year-long deployment to eastern Afghanistan, I knew he was struggling to return to some sense of “normal”. The past year’s rapid series of events in which my unit’s deployment had been cancelled and his unit’s had been expedited left me grappling from the outside to understand the unique situation of veterans returning to “normal”. Conventional approaches have helped many veterans, but too many fall through the cracks, especially the National Guardsmen who are playing such an active role in Iraq and Afghanistan and who return to civilian jobs and lives.

That’s why I was so excited to hear about Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing. Project Healing Waters is a non-profit with the mission of “assisting in the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active duty military personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings”. Fly fishing, especially for urban dwellers, may feel like an odd way of helping veterans rehabilitate, but the gentle calm of a rushing river and the slow, deliberate nature of fly fishing has helped the organization reach thousands of veterans through its programs in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Teaching veterans to tie flies builds patience, while the supportive environment of the various fly fishing tournaments and other events helps to create a sense of community and support for those seeking normalcy.

This organization, like many others, is trying unconventional means to assist veterans with the transition home. What made Project Healing Waters different for me was my background in water conservation issues and the chance to see the healing powers of clean water firsthand. Growing up in a rural area, we often took for granted the ability to fish our local streams and rivers for fish that was safe to eat and free from pollutants. That’s why I’m glad that thanks to the Clean Water Act and the work of the Environmental Protection Agency and its partners, there are pristine wetlands and riverine areas where I and my brothers and sisters in arms can go to find relief in the serenity of local waterways.

About the author: Trey Lewis is finishing his first year as an ORISE Fellow with the EPA’s WaterSense program, a partnership program focusing on water efficiency and conservation. He is also a member of the Maryland Army National Guard’s elite Long Range Surveillance unit and has spent time as an infantryman and intelligence analyst.