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Honoring veterans a year-round mission for fly-fishing group

Every year, Veterans Day provides us with an opportunity to recognize and honor those who have served so valiantly and given so much of themselves to ensure that we have the freedoms and opportunities we enjoy here in the United States.

Though Veterans Day as we know it was established in 1954, its beginnings can be traced back to the end of hostilities in World War I. The Great War officially ended when officials signed the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, but the fighting actually ceased months earlier when an armistice, or ceasefire, between the Allied and German troops went into effect at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

One year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 as the first Armistice Day. In May 1938, congressional action made Armistice Day an official holiday. Then in 1954, Congress amended the 1938 act so Armistice Day became Veterans Day to recognize the sacrifice of all service men and women who had served or would serve in the armed forces.

While celebrating Veterans Day is one way to honor America’s veterans, one organization has found a way to do so year-round and nationwide through the sport of fly-fishing.

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. is a non-profit organization that is “dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled military service personnel and disabled veterans though fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings.”

Project Healing Waters (PHWFF) first began at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2005 where its founder, Ed Nicholson, a retired Naval officer, spent some time himself. While there he observed wounded members of the armed services returning from combat theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan and had a desire to help them by making fly-fishing activities available.

It wasn’t long before he had service members wanting to join him on fishing outings, and the rest is history. Today there are 230 programs in 21 geographic regions throughout the U.S. Each of these programs is managed at the local level by volunteers representing independent fly-fishing clubs as well as Fly Fishers International clubs and Trout Unlimited chapters.

These local programs work in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities, Department of Defense (DOD) military installations, Warrior Transition Units (WTU) and other institutions to make fly-fishing and related activities available for rehabilitation purposes.

“Project Healing Waters was something I found while at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, it intrigued me at the time,” said an Army captain in a testimonial posted on the PHWFF website. “I thought my disabilities would limit my capabilities. My injuries make me disabled, but they’re not going to be a disability and I picked up a fly rod and haven’t put it down since.”

According the PHWFF, “In 2019, 277,256 hours were donated by over 3,751 PHWFF volunteers. This enabled more than 8,593 disabled veterans and disabled active military service personnel to participate in PHWFF program activities at no cost to the participant.”

There are 15 PHWFF programs in the Southwest Region, which includes Nevada, California, Arizona and New Mexico. While there are no active programs in Nevada, you will find them in the neighboring states. You can learn more online at https://projecthealingwaters.org/.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. Find him on Facebook at @dougwritesoutdoors. He can be reached at intheoutdoorslv@gmail.com

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