Towards the end of 2015, the European Region of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing was officially launched. It’s origins began with the hard-work and dedication of Regional Coordinator Stephen Graves at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany. The Landstuhl Regional Medical Center is the largest U.S. military hospital outside of the continental United States and offered the opportunity to bring our unique form of therapy to injured and disabled members, and veterans, of the U.S. Armed Forces stationed overseas. Since that time, the Program solidified its presence through collaboration, hard work, and outreach efforts – expanding its service to Baauhmholder, Germany and began hosting outings for U.S. military personnel throughout Europe. In just its first year, the region conducted over 20 Flyfishing 101 classes with 10 volunteers engaging over 100 active U.S. military and veterans in Europe. Leading all these efforts was European Regional Coordinator Stephen Graves. We’re pleased to share a “time capsule report” from him which details the origins, growth, and impact of this exciting new Region.
I would like to capture the Europe Region of Project Healing waters in a “time Capsule” concept so we can introduce our Region from its root to what it is today. I chose to, on the occasion of our first anniversary (DEC 30, 2015), to introduce our Region in one overview, hopefully delivering a better understanding of our growth to date.
June 2015, after a conversation with PHWFF Founder and President Ed Nicholson, I embarked on a journey that has been full of challenge and enlightenment. Given the chance it was now my mission to navigate the system in place, recruit leaders, and strike out on uncharted territory overseas.
July 2015, all the scrambled information and hidden obstacles of starting a valid Non-Profit Organization in Germany are now in the open; the task has not been altered and the process begins in earnest. The objective at hand is to convince the U.S. Army Garrison Commander that our purpose is sincere and our organization is just; we will service the well-being of our Active Duty Service members and Disabled Veterans through the mission statement provided to us by Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.
Face to face meetings with officials in the recreation departments, administrative operations and other non-government agencies is constant and seems at times to be an exercise in time consuming wild goose chases. My experience has proven that patience, perseverance and a consistent trust in the folks we are asking to support our cause will conclude in a positive result. In the US Army nothing happens without the proper paperwork, and so with the process now uncovered the task of applying began. The interim time between application and approval was spent by a core group of the willing presenting the idea at our local US Army Hospital, setting up tables at local events like the auto show at Smith Barracks in Baumholder, participating in fishing and river clean up events with local German fishing clubs and a few more awareness drives. After the barrage of application packets, follow-up phone calls and routine personal visits and the “required waiting time” our application is approved and Project Healing Waters Europe and the Rheinland Pfalz Program is authorized to begin operations on and around the U.S. installations; the date is DEC 30, 2015.
The selection of key leaders was not difficult as we have in our unique community many patriotic and caring Veterans, Service Members, and Civilians that responded to the call for volunteers to improve the lives of our Service Member and Veterans population. The greatest population of folks was found at Landsthul Regional Army Medical Center in Landsthul Germany. This is the site of a high function medical facility that services all of Europe and current combat theaters. The great folks at the USO Warrior Center responded to our request for support with open arms allowing the use of their facility to conduct fly fishing 101 activities. The local Commands recognized the value of our mission and began to invite us to participate in activities with the Soldiers and Civilians of the force. As the Regional Coordinator I participated in two Reserve Component Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program events; PHWFF was recognized as a legitimate Community Partner Provider highlighting the program for its work in rehabilitative and pre-conditioning work through fly fishing and associated activities.
In 2016 we conducted our first fishing trips, a couple to local fish ponds and a river and another to Austria. No matter the location our volunteers and participants enjoyed what we like to call a “slice of America”; the freedom and enjoyment of fishing and being with other folks excited about doing the same. The Region has one program running currently in a split location concept in Baauhmholder and Landstuhl Medical Center with 2 more programs on the horizon for early in 2017 (Grafenwoeher-Germany and Lakenheath-UK)
The region conducted 20+ Flyfishing 101 events since Dec 2015, serving approximately 100 active military and veterans and engaging 10 volunteers in 500+ hours of volunteer work.
The Region is planning two trips for the 2017 season, one to Italy to fish the beautiful glacier fed streams of the Dolomite mountain range for beautiful brown trout and sizeable rainbows. And one to the picturesque Idrijca valley of Slovenia where we hope to encounter the elusive Marble Trout or even a chance at the top predator in the region, the Huchen (Danube Salmon).
We have many exciting new opportunities in our Region currently in development; the outdoor recreation department is recovering and constructing 3 streams to accommodate the life cycle and prosperity of the native German brown trout, our volunteers have been “in the thick of it” as this project moves forward. We seem to develop new partners from our host nation daily; fisherman that have lifted the vail and revealed to us the tremendous waters of Germany and for this we are grateful as it is very difficult to find accessible water to fish.
As the first year of our venture closes in Europe we continue pushing to bring the Project Healing Waters Mission to the heroes of our past and the champions of our present. We want to thank the Headquarters Staff and the organizations that have given us the opportunity to share this tremendous gift. Everyone here with PHWFF knows they are not too far away from home!!!
Steve Graves, PHWFF
Regional Coordinator – Europe