ARLINGTON, Va. — Soldiers at the Joint Base San Antonio Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) in Texas are discovering calmness through a program that allows them to grab a fishing pole, get in a kayak and keep paddling until they find their peaceful place.
JBSA has enlisted the help of a non-profit organization to get Soldiers fishing from kayaks — or just kayaking. Either way, a bad day on the water beats a good day at the office, as they say.
A group goes out on the water every Thursday morning, meeting at a private ranch hosted by the charity where they are provided with equipment as well as training on how to maneuver a kayak and to fish.
It's also a great way to develop lasting relationships, said Staff Sgt. Aaron Schaefer, who has participated in the program for nearly two years to help manage post-traumatic stress disorder.
"It's the people I've met and the friends I've made," said Schaefer. "The last two times, I met two new guys that had just started coming out to it."
He likes the fact that there's no pressure to do anything other than relax.
"You do what you want and what you're comfortable with,” he said.
Once you get out on the water, organizers keep Soldiers safe by advising on them where they are allowed to go until they get more comfortable with the kayak. Other than that, however, it's up to the participants how they want to spend their time.
"You can either kayak or kayak and fish," Schaefer said. "Some people aren't very fond of fishing, and that's OK."
Schaefer said he's not a very good fisherman but he loves trying. The most important thing is the relaxation it provides.
"It's good for all of us," he said. "Some people seem to loosen up when we're out there and will actually talk a little more, whereas in the van ride out, they're initially kind of closed off. They might be new to it and not sure of it, and then as they get out there, they just kind of open up."
Pfc. Elijah Cordell participated in the program for about a month this past summer.
"I enjoyed it a lot," he said. "It was very therapeutic."
All participants have to do is show up, sign waiver forms, accept that they will stay within certain boundaries, and then they're given a fishing pole, a life jacket and a kayak. After that, it's up to them, Cordell said.
Cordell described the experience of being part of an SRU as very different from what he's used to -- particularly "how relaxed it is," he said.
"It's more focused on you than the whole unit," he said. "It's more individual than team-based."
For anyone who finds their way to the JBSA SRU, Cordell thinks they should give the kayak fishing program a try.
"I do recommend it for a lot of people," he said. "If you haven't been kayaking, they teach you how to kayak. If you've never fished, you don't even have to fish."
The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.