In honor of our 10-year anniversary, we’re interviewing individuals who have been involved with Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation in different capacities, some of whom have been involved since the inception of the Foundation in 2007. Today, we’re interviewing Dave Kumlien, one of the original founding volunteers and longtime supporter of Warriors and Quiet Waters.

To provide some context for our audience, tell me who you are, a little bit about your background, and how you are involved with Warriors and Quiet Waters.

My wife Karyn and I started Bozeman’s first fly fishing shop, Montana Troutfitters, in 1978. I and did a lot of guiding, outfitting, and ran fly fishing schools. We have two children, Kristopher and Kevin. Kevin, the youngest, is an Army officer and a West Point graduate.

I joined the WQW Board of Directors at its second meeting in 2007 at the invitation of Montana fly fishing legend Bud Lilly who was on the board at the time. In addition to my board duties, I served as the volunteer fly fishing operations director. I lined up the volunteer guides, secured all the fly fishing gear for the wounded warriors, identified the locations we would be fishing, and led all of the fly fishing instruction.

In the beginning, we didn’t pay guides. Everyone was a volunteer and we had the top guides in Montana helping us. We could not have gotten the WQW program off the ground without the professionalism and help of the volunteer guides.

What was it about this organization that encouraged you to dedicate this much time?

I’ve always supported the American military. My father and father-in-law both served in WWII, but what really brought it home for me was that, at the time we started WQW in 2007, my son Kevin was in the Army and was in his final year at West Point. The young men and women that we were serving in the WQW program reminded me of my son, which made my service to the organization very personal.

In the beginning, there were many challenges such as fundraising to find the necessary money, securing a large number of volunteer guides, and finding sources for fly fishing gear that warriors could keep. However, every single one of the challenges that could have deterred WQW’s progress were worked out. It was an amazing effort by a group of dedicated and passionate volunteers.

What kept us all going was the feedback we received from companions, warriors, volunteers, and the guides. It was very encouraging to see and hear the experiences of each person who touched this organization. It was very inspiring!

What was the biggest milestone?

For me personally, the biggest milestone was the introduction of the Couples Fishing Experiences (FX). We started off running single-person FXs (meaning that six warriors would come to Warriors and Quiet Waters from all over the country by themselves to participate in the program).

Creating the Couples FX came out of a conversation with two warriors that my wife Karyn and I spoke to at the end of an early season FX. We were sitting with them at the airport, waiting for their flights to take them back to San Diego Naval Hospital – Balboa. We asked them if there were any suggestions they had to help us make the program better. Almost in unison, they both said, “I wish I could bring my wife.” It wasn’t a fast journey to get everyone on board to create a couple’s experience, but when we finally did the first Couples FX in 2008, and we started to hear the testimonials and the feedback from warrior couples, we knew that this program was meant to continue.

As you’ve watched warriors go through the program, what indicators or feedback have signaled to you that this program is successful?

The therapeutic impact of being in moving water in the mountains is very strong, and we could see that in the demeanor changes of the warriors during the program. Almost instantly, we could see them relax, lean back, and open up as they went through the week.

Many of the wounded warriors who have come to WQW dealt with a variety of challenges. We had one who talked about how was not able to sleep since he received his injuries in combat. He told us no amount of medication helped him to sleep for more than a few minutes. One evening after dinner, we found him sound asleep on the couch in the living room. He awoke several hours later, and at first, did not believe what time it was and that he’d slept for almost 4 hours! We’ve heard stories of warriors who have been so withdrawn and depressed, who have contemplated suicide. Some of those warriors have gone through the program and have received a new outlook on life. The WQW experience can save lives.

What is your hope for WQW in its 50th year? What is the legacy that you hope it builds?

While our country may not always be actively involved in a conflict, there will always be a need to serve our combat veterans. My greatest hope is that Warriors and Quiet Waters can adapt to continue to serve this very deserving group of people, and continues listening to the needs of the warrior. WQW is doing a great job adapting the program now by increasing the amount of couples they bring to Montana as well as bringing past alumni back on the Alumni FXs. There will always be tremendous possibilities to serve America’s military families and I hope that Warriors and Quiet Waters can adapt the work they do to serve them all. I hope that the program stays strongly rooted in its current mission, and keeps creating new ways to utilize the beautiful facility that they have.

WQW is such an incredible organization and I think that it is clearly one of the best programs in the country serving veterans. I feel very blessed to have been involved at the beginning.

Thank you for sharing your story, Dave.