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Nov. 16, 2011

Project Healing Waters Launches Successful Drift Boat Fishing Trip

PROJECT HEALING WATERS ENJOYS GREAT FISHING ON THE SALMON RIVER - Project Healing Waters (PHW) volunteer and fishing guide Rob Snowhite guides Sergeant First Class Bob Simonovich in a drift boat along the Salmon River as other PHW participants work their lines. Simonovich landed a salmon and thanked the "awesome guides" on this two-day adventure. (Photo by Jessica Burt, Oswego County Tourism Office.)

Pulaski -Nearly a dozen soldiers and veterans from across New York State and Pennsylvania recently participated in a two-day guided drift boat fishing trip on the Salmon River.

The trip was organized by Project Healing Waters (PHW) volunteer Jim Goodness in conjunction with Fort Drum's chapter of Project Healing Waters. Army Captain Robert Burke coordinated the group of participants which included active-duty servicemen and veterans from Fort Drum's Warrior Transition Unit.

"These events are so much more than fishing trips," said Goodness. "They are a way for us to show our respect for these guys who have sacrificed for our country. This is important for all of us."

Project Healing Waters is a national organization that began in 2004 when retired Navy Captain Ed Nicholson met other wounded soldiers and took them fishing. There are now more than 45 programs throughout the U.S. that provide fly-fishing, fly-casting and fly-tying instruction to wounded servicemen and women.

The Fort Drum chapter of Project Healing Waters began in 2009 and continues today with Captain Burke coordinating local volunteers to instruct fly-tying and fly-casting lessons for soldiers and veterans. He said, "In addition to fishing events, we have fly-tying classes on Wednesdays throughout the year and fly-casting lessons in the spring and summer months. The ongoing training not only helps soldiers prepare for the fishing trips, but in their daily lives as well."

Burke continued, "Re-learning the fine motor skills associated with these tasks and learning to overcome obstacles associated with their disabilities are only a part of the overall rehabilitation of these soldiers. The biggest reward for them is the socialization with other veterans and the realization that a more normal life is possible."

This was the first Project Healing Waters event and Salmon River trip for Sergeant First Class Bob Simonovich of Fort Drum. He landed a salmon and thanked the "awesome guides."

Military veteran John Tinti has participated in three Project Healing Waters events on the Salmon River and agreed that, "the guides were fantastic! They fished a different part in the river than we had in the past and I caught two salmon."

Volunteer John Kuss from Hell's Anglers Guide Service in Altmar said, "This is my first Project Healing Waters event and it definitely won't be my last. The vets on my boat were very happy to be out enjoying a great day for fishing."

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation opened the doors of their training academy in Pulaski to host the group during their stay. Many other organizations and individuals worked together to host meals and offer fishing services.

"We are grateful to the representatives of Project Healing Waters, including the veterans and soldiers who came from the Fort Drum chapter," Goodness said. "We would also like to thank the drift boat guides who volunteered their time, equipment and expertise. Their smiles and laughter made the event even more special."

Local fishing guides who volunteered their time and experience for the event include John Kuss, Hell's Anglers Guide Service; Eric Geary, S.W.A.T. Guide Service; Ed Martin, Expert Guide Service; and many independent guides such as Brad Darby, Mike Mogg, Paul ("Smitty") Smith, Mike Deyo, and Rob Snowhite.

"I would also like to thank Joe Vivenzio of River Run Troutfitters for his help and support. He was the guide coordinator and really started the ball rolling for the event. Within three hours, he had ten drift boats lined up to participate," said Goodness. "We are also grateful to the NYS DEC training academy for their accommodations, the VFW Post #7289 in Pulaski for the terrific dinner, Cub Scout Pack #829 for their great service and the American Legion Post #358 of Pulaski for their financial support in covering expenses. Additional thanks to Helen Kuss for her tireless effort in coordinating a delicious barbeque and those who made the meal possible."

They include Larry and Patti Stewart, Becky Falsbury, Renee Smith, Amanda Wait, Sandy McCullagh, Alan Manwaring of Big Hometown Corner Store and Denise Powers who made a beautiful cake. Many thanks to the Altmar Volunteer Fire Department who hosted the barbeque and their representatives Bill and Corey Holcomb, Wayne Dealing and Phil Bortz. Finally, special thanks to Erv and Paul Hilderbrand and Brian Conway for filming, taking great pictures and their tremendous support."

Fishing guide Rob Snowhite volunteers for the Washington, D.C. chapter of Project Healing Waters at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

"I've been guiding for 10 years and this is my first time rowing a drift boat.," he said. "The Salmon River is an amazing resource with the best fishing outside of Alaska! It brightens the soldier's day to get them out of their rooms once a week to learn casting and go on trips. All the supplies for the event were donated. People have been known to walk by our booth at trade shows and donate a $500 rod and reel to PHW."

Project Healing Waters is a not-for-profit organization that is completely dependent on volunteers and donations. The group offers many fishing events, classes and outings throughout the year, for which they rely on donated lodging, meals, equipment, locations, services and monies.

For more information, to make a donation, or to volunteer with Project Healing Waters, contact Captain Rob Burke, program leader for the Fort Drum chapter at 10mtnphwff@gmail.com or Dan Morgan, co-program leader for the Syracuse chapter at phwffsyracuse@gmail.com. For details about the organization, visit the program's Web site at www.projecthealingwaters.org.

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