By Cheryl RodewigAugust 24, 2011
FORT BENNING, Ga. - Eight wounded Soldiers from the Warrior Transition Battalion received an all-expenses-paid fishing trip to Lake Lanier July 29-31. Nine more will go deep-sea fishing this weekend in Destin, Fla. Both excursions are courtesy of the Georgia chapter of Safari Club International, a nonprofit organization that sponsors hunting and fishing trips for wounded warriors and retirees under the Soldiers Rebound program.
"We want to give back something to them because they've given everything for us," said retired Col. John Haynie, a member of SCI. "They sacrifice their lives and their Families for our freedom. It's the least we can do for our Soldiers."
Before the last event, many of the Soldiers were struggling with depression or Family-related issues, Haynie said, and although the trip isn't a fix-all solution, it can be a source of encouragement.
"I get the feeling they are that much closer to recovery after the event " a big step closer," he said. "A weekend away is always healing. They have opportunities to talk to other wounded Soldiers who've gone through the exact same thing. What better place to open up than when you're sitting next to another Soldier " who's gone through the same experience in a combat zone " and you're sitting there relaxing, having a Diet Coke, catching fish? (They) talk about their lives, their Family lives, what experiences they had during combat, and then we all get together in the evening and laugh about it."
Spc. Brian Noaker doesn't describe himself as much of a fisherman. He signed up for the trip at the suggestion of another Soldier.
"It was more of a bonding time than a fishing time," said Noaker, who's been stationed at the WTB since October. "The biggest part for me was getting out there and meeting new people and making new friends. I met one guy here from the WTB that without that trip I never would have. We were able to … interact with civilians. They share their experiences in life, and we share ours. I'm still in contact with a couple of the guys. They also gave us a one-year membership to their organization, so we can go on future trips and see them again."
Noaker won the biggest fish award for a striper weighing in at more than 20 pounds.
He said he enjoyed the outing, which included lodging, a meal at a restaurant Friday night, fishing most of the day Saturday with professional guides and a dinner cruise aboard a yacht that night.
"It gets you away from the barracks and Army life for a weekend," he said. "You just get away from it all and enjoy being outdoors. It's just you and the natural surroundings. It gives you time to reflect and ponder events. That's all you have is time when you're out there waiting for the fish to bite."
Noaker said the relaxation was a welcome respite from his daily routine and obligations at the battalion and he appreciated SCI sponsoring the getaway.
Haynie said being involved in the Soldier Rebound program means a lot to him. In 2004, he and a fellow retiree, who owns a hunting preserve in Alabama, invited several service members for a deer hunting trip in 2004. Members of Safari Club International happened to be there, and they liked the idea.
"And it just grew from there," Haynie said.
The weekend events always center around fishing or hunting, and families come when there's space available. The trips, including transportation, are always free to the Soldiers.
For more information on the state chapter, visit www.gasci.org.