By Staff Sgt. Ben Mellon
0500-the alarm clock buzzes, time to get up. “It’s awfully early for me to be getting up on a Saturday”, I think to myself. I put on a pot of coffee, grab my gear, kiss my wife, and head towards the water. It’s going to be a great day; I can feel it in the air.
A thick layer of morning fog looms over the parking area as I pull into the lot. The only movement is a few small shadows moving about; my brothers gearing up. I climb out of my jeep and begin to do the same. We walk down together and wait patiently by the river.
As the van pulls up, my early-morning wakeup no longer seems to matter, and my excitement begins to soar.
Fourteen heroes step out like giants, but with a gentleness difficult to describe. They are some of America’s bravest warriors. There is an anxiousness in their eyes, not knowing what to expect, carefully guarding themselves to keep anyone from seeing the brokenness inside. The first handshake brings a warm smile to each face one by one. The healing begins.
We climb into our boats, rig up our fly rods and head down river. After a few anxiety-filled minutes, it happens: “FISH ON! WE GOT A FISH ON,” someone shouts. Immediately fear, depression, anger, physical disabilities, and even PTSD seem to vanish. At that moment, a small part of a broken warrior was healed.
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. (PHWFF) is an organization dedicated to the emotional and physical rehabilitation of disabled Veterans through fly-fishing. There is an incredibly therapeutic nature to the sport that lends itself to helping Veterans deal with service-related injuries. If nothing else, PHWFF offers a time and place Veterans can completely let their guard down and be themselves without feeling the need to hide their problems, which a lot of times is what they need the most.
PHWFF is not just about the fishing. Fly fishing is simply the means by which we complete our mission to serve those who have served us. Often, the thrill of landing a nice fish is enough to give them hope and a reason to smile, something to bring them to a place of peace. Also, learning to tie flies or build rods can be just enough to captivate their minds and keep them from focusing on the stressors they deal with every day. This is what heals the wounds you cannot see.
Since I joined the military in 2007, I have always served in a support role and still currently do. I have never been in combat or suffered any mental or physical disabilities as a result of my service. I fully understand that everyone in the military has a role to play and all are crucial to mission success. However, even though we all sign the same “blank check,” not all are asked to make the same sacrifices.
At the end of the day, I lay in bed with a guilt deep in my heart that I have brothers and sisters suffering due to the sacrifices they have made when so little has been asked of me throughout my career. PHWFF gave me the mission I needed to serve those brother sisters who were asked to give much more. In the military we are trained to always have each other’s back and we never leave a man behind. This doesn’t change when a veteran leaves the service. This is what motivates me to be an Airman, a Wingman and give my all each day in or out of the uniform.
My Name is Staff Sgt. Ben Mellon and this is why I Volunteer.