Local businesses help veterans

MANCHESTER - Tony Lester, 1st Cavalry US Army Iron Horse Brigade, blown out of his Humvee on Jan. 5, 2005 by an IED outside the Iraqi city of Ramadi; he fractured his back in five places.

Almost immediately upon impact, Lester was treated on the scene and flown via a Blackhawk helicopter to a medical ship waiting in the Persian Gulf. From there he traveled to Ramstein Air Base in Germany and within three hours was on his way back to the United States. Lester was treated at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C. and it took him nearly a year to recover from his wounds. Doctors at Walter Reed didn't expect him to walk again, but he fought back with ferocity just like he did during his 32 years of service in the military. Lester now walks with a cane and needs his back brace on most days, but has not let that dampen his outlook.

"I am just happy to be here, some of the guys that were with me on that day, didn't make it home," he said. "The US spent a lot of time and money trying to improve combat Humvees armor protection, and the hard top probably saved my life that day. We were escorting a fuel convoy when the IED went off. I was manning the .50 cal and was knocked out of the turret, the Humvee ammo box pinned me to the ground and crushed my upper and lower spine."

Ray Berumen, owner of Taconic Guide Service and Orvis endorsed fly fishing guide, proudly sponsored Project Healing Waters, by giving him a complimentary day on the water. Manchester resident Andy Tarrantino graciously contributed one-night free lodging, Peter Kutzer donated a free drift boat rental, and the Equinox Resort and Hotel allowed him to fish on Equinox pond; all helped Lester recover from PTSD and give him hope for better times to come.

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) began in 2005 serving wounded military service members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since then, PHWFF has expanded nationwide, establishing its highly successful program in Department of Defense hospitals, Warrior Transition Units, and Veterans Affairs Medical Centers and clinics.

The Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing program provides basic fly fishing, fly casting, fly tying and rod building classes, along with clinics participants ranging from beginners who have never fished before, to those with prior fly fishing and tying experience who are adapting their skills to their new abilities. All fly fishing and tying equipment is provided to the participants at no cost.

Fishing trips, both one day and multi-day, are also provided free of charge to participants. PHWFF is unique in that the volunteers are teaching classes on an on-going, long term basis. It is much more than a one day fishing trip. For many participants, particularly disabled veterans, the socialization and camaraderie of the classes are just as important as the fishing outings, and provide them a new activity.

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing relies on Federation of Fly Fishers, Trout Unlimited, and independent fly fishing clubs to conduct the program at the DOD and VA facilities across the nation. The volunteer staff and outings leaders include experienced fly fishers and guides, all of whom donate their time and knowledge to support PHWFF participants.

In order to have a viable program, three groups must co-exist: a fly fishing club willing to provide the volunteers and organize the program, a DOD or VA medical facility willing to host the program, and injured military members or disabled veterans willing to participate. Because each of these groups is unique, no two Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing programs will be exactly the same. To learn more visit http://www.projecthealingwaters.org/.


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