Retired Marine Colonel Eric Hastings remembers flight missions “high above the absolute death and destruction on the ground” during his tours in Vietnam. From the cockpit, he traced meandering ribbons that cut through the jungle and reminded him of the trout streams of home. At night, he dreamed of fly fishing. When he returned to Montana in 1969, to a nation decades from diagnosing Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), he went straight to the water. He tied a fly to a line and cast. The river, he claims, healed him. Hastings and Dr. Volney Steele found they shared a vision of bringing warriors with both seen and unseen wounds from recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to Montana to find the peace and hope they mutually found through fishing. In July and September of 2007, Hastings, Steele, and dozens of other dedicated volunteers brought Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation’s first two groups of traumatically injured combat veterans to Bozeman. Along with a welcomed break from surgeries, rehab therapy, doctors, and hospital routines, the 14 Soldiers, Marines, and Sailors from the Naval Medical Center in San Diego were given: top-of-line fishing gear; float trips on blue ribbon waters and fly fishing instruction from world-class professional guides; delicious home-cooked meals by loving “moms”; and comfortable accommodations in beautiful surroundings. The less tangible yet more meaningful benefits they reported receiving were feelings of security, serenity, resilience, hope and camaraderie that formed positive memories and will last a lifetime. The group knew they had a model that worked incredibly well, and began planning for 2008 and beyond. Although not a religious organization, Warriors and Quiet Waters’ name was inspired by Psalm 23, “He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul.”
In 2012, the Department of Defense (DOD) estimated more than 50,000 Americans from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom had been injured in combat. Among the wounded are some 16,000 severely injured casualties who would have died on the battlefield just a generation ago. But medical and technological advances are saving more than 90 percent of all those who fall in battle. The wounded statistics describe only those with physical wounds. The unseen wounds of war — including post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) — are not included and are harder to track. Since 2002, DOD has recorded more than 43,000 patients diagnosed with TBI, but many more may have gone undiagnosed. The Department of Veterans Affairs is taking in thousands of new cases of PTS each month. Because most of the wounded are young, they will need decades of help. WQW believes we are part of the solution regarding our nation’s injured defenders by providing a respite from the stresses of war, the monotony of lengthy hospital stays and traditional therapy, and the many day-to-day struggles involved in their journey home. To learn more about the details of our program, click here.
All therapeutic programs are based out of Quiet Waters Ranch, 112 peaceful acres near the base of the Bridger Mountains. After undergoing ADA-accessible renovations, Barnard Lodge (the main home at Quiet Waters Ranch) guarantees every program participant an experience devoid of physical barriers in which to promote healing and resilience throughout participation in a therapeutic Fishing Experience.
Recruiting methods are evolving in an effort to meet the ever changing needs of post-9/11 combat veterans and their families. WQW has also expanded programming to serve military caregivers, spouses, and active duty special operations military personnel, recognizing the positive impact a Fishing Experience has upon service members who continue to experience high stress and kinetic environments. Since 2007, WQW has provided over 705 Fishing Experiences to combat veterans and spouses/caregivers from across the nation.
Success has historically been measured by freely offered alumni testimonials. In an effort to quantifiably measure the short- and long-term impact of WQW’s therapeutic programs, WQW has developed a pre- and post-FX survey for participants under the counsel of Dr. Aaron Sawyer, clinical psychologist and contractor for the Dept. of Defense.