ANCHORAGE, Alaska—Most people are familiar with the tales of combat fishing in Alaska, but very few have heard about fly fishing trips in a combat zone.
"That's a blood knot, I learned that when I first went fly fishing in Baghdad," said Michael D. Henrie, SSgt, USAF, during a fishing trip.
Henrie became hooked on fly fishing during his second deployment to the Middle East. Not many people can say they threw out their first cast at Sadam Hussein's former palace.
"Some soldiers a few years ago found out that there were some fish there and requested some fly rods from home and started a club "The Baghdad Fly Fishing Club," said Henrie during an interview. "So we went out and signed out on an 8x11 piece of paper, and that was my first fly fishing."
Shortly after he started fly fishing, Henrie read about "Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing" in Readers Digest.
"It's purpose is to help wounded soldiers and veterans heal through fly fishing therapy both mentally and physically," said Henrie. When he returned from deployment he called to find out how to volunteer with the Alaska chapter, and that's when he discovered there wasn't one. About a year and a half ago, Henrie with help from the Alaska Fly Fishers, started holding weekly fly tying clinics for wounded military personnel and veterans.
"I'm retired myself," said Stan Bissonette a fly tying instructor and member of Alaska Fly Fishers. "I like to work with the military, this is just a real good possibility to work with them."
The non-profit held it's first fishing trip of the season May 21st, 2011 at Green Lake on Elmendorf Air Force Base. Troops, veterans, volunteers and families had a picnic, and spent the day fishing.
"Project Healing Waters has gradually become a brotherhood," said Emilio Rodriguez, PFC U.S. Army. "Everything that Project Healing Waters has done for me, I truly, truly appreciate, my family appreciates it. So definitely this would be like my form of therapy."
Volunteers say being a piece of that therapy is a special experience.
"While we're tying flies we have some of the wounded vets that they just think they can't do it," said Bissonette. "They come in and they show them just a few things and you know, you see them and they go, oh I can do this."
"The greatest benefit is realizing that a more normal life is possible. Fly fishing can be a lifelong pursuit, both physically and emotionally," that's according to the program's website.
There are over a dozen fishing trips planned for 2011. The trips would not be possible without donations from the community, local guides and lodges, according to Henrie.
For more information you can visit http://www.projecthealingwaters.org/ The Alaska Chapter also has a Facebook page, "Project Healing Waters Alaska."