We’ve all experienced it – that single moment when you feel at one with the world. When you are present in a moment of inner peace that encompasses your entire being. You feel whole. For many of our veterans, these moments are too few and far between. Think about it – they have been on high alert for months, fighting for our freedom, fighting side by side with their brothers and sisters in arms, fighting for their lives. Then, whether through injury, disability or the end of their time, it suddenly stops. It’s as if someone has slammed on the brakes.
This is the story we here at Heroes on the Water here frequently, and one of the many reasons we stay dedicated to providing experiences that give just a little bit of peace to so many, like Greg Ramirez and Carmon McCurrie.
In the Here and Now
From 1992 to 2007, Greg or Ram as he was known when he was in the Army and he is still known in the Veteran community, was a dedicated committed soldier in various positions from Artillery Fire Direction Specialist and Artillery Radar operator to Infantryman, and was deployed to Guantanamo Bay Cuba, Bosnia, Kuwait and Afghanistan.
“I decided not to put my wife through another deployment and wanted an opportunity to start a family,” said Ram. “I found a job at the post office, and tried to start a new life, but it was more difficult that I thought.”
Suffering from anger management, anxiety and depression, Ram, like most veterans, tried to work with the VA. However, he found that even with their treatment for PTS, he was not getting better. Regardless, he decided to participate in a fishing trip the VA was hosting, even though he had never fished before.
“My wife really supported me in going, and even though it was my first time to fish, I caught a 4 foot black tip shark. I was pumped,” said Ram. “But it was not catching the shark that made a lasting impression on me. It was Mitch Brown.”
Brown, retired Marine First Sergeant and Vietnam veteran, was relaxing in a deck chair, smoking a cigar and just taking it all in.
“He looked at me and said ‘you have to relax. Feel the breeze, feel the air, enjoy the moment. The here and now.’,” said Ram. “I thought wow he’s not een fishing and he does not know what he’s talking about.”
Once he returned to the DFW area, a veteran who was part of a Heroes on the Water chapter invited him to come out on a kayak fishing trip. In spite of the fact that Ram had no gear and did not know what he was doing, the vet encouraged him to come anyway.
“I got on water, cast a couple times and I saw how still and calm the water was. I felt the breeze. Felt the air. And at that moment I felt the peace and I realized what Mitch was talking about,” said Ram. “It was not the shark – I remember what Mitch told me.”
“Ever since then I just look for that moment where I can find inner peace, Ram continued. “I did several events and then bought a kayak – a Hobie Outback 2014. Then I expanded into fly fishing and now I build my own rods and tie my own flies. Plus, I spent time showing other vets how to do the same.”
One of Ram’s passions is to help veterans feel less shy about visiting a HOW chapter.
“HOW gives back, it helps bring inner peace. Something about being in the kayak and the stillness of the water is really neat. ou can work through your thoughts and also bring yourself to the here and now,” Ram said. “It really helps. It’s like a form of meditation. Put your feet in the water and you start to feel the peace.”
Ram recognizes the power of taking fellow brothers fishing and the importance of that moment you receive inner peace.
“For that moment, you forget what is bothering you. You live in the here and now and it’s peaceful,” said Ram. “When you actually catch a fish, conventional or fly, that’s just a bonus. Sit down and just take in the moment with mother nature; that is what HOW helps bring to us veterans.”
Get Lost to Find Yourself
Carmon McCurrie was in the Army for over 16 years. His career spanned a post 9/11 deployment to Afghanistan (an assignment he volunteered for), and the first wave in Iraq, where he witnessed the shock and awe attacks. It was during that time Carmon was injured by mortar and sustained severe injuries.
“I continued to do missions with one arm I could not use. I was told I had to learn to live with the pain,” said Carmon. “In fact, when it was time for me to return home, my first sergeant major and battalion commander said I could not exit with as much damage to my body as I had. They took me to Alabama for surgery and 18 months of rehab.”
It was at that point the Army released Carmon from duty.
“After 16 years of going 100 miles an hour, getting into civilian life felt like coming to a screeching halt,” said Carmon. “The VA’s idea of help was to provide multiple prescriptions which they were not afraid to dole out in large quantities.”
Carmon found it enormously difficult to transition to civilian life. He craved a faster pace, and was not concerned with his own well-being. In fact, he attempted suicide on 3 occasions.
“I tried to hang myself twice. The third time I was going to use a gun, but an old school buddy called out of the blue,” said Carmon. “That saved my life. Otherwise, I would be a statistic.”
Carmon knew a change was needed if he was going to survive, much less acclimate, civilian life. He moved to Arkansas, where the slower pace seemed to suit him, and got into church.
“I was checking out what a good friend of mine was doing on Facebook one day, and saw he was really into this organization called Heroes on the Water,” said Carmon.
That friend was Jason Austin, who got Carmon in touch with someone close by to attend a HOW event.
“It was therapeutic. You lose yourself in the water. It’s just you and nature and before you know it 4 hours had passed,” said Carmon. “I knew there was something to this. It clicked. But did not want to driver 1-1/2 hours to go fishing.”
Carmon looked into opening a chapter in his part of Arkansas, and was able to launch it in October of 2016.
“It’s definitely pulled me out of my comfort zone,” said Carmon. “My life is definitely better since I invested time in creating a HOW chapter, got myself a service dog, and have remarried all in the last year. My life is so much better, I don’t have the words to describe it.”
Through all the positives, Carmon still has survivor’s guilt, and is very aware of the struggles our veterans have when they return home.
“I’m excited about reaching out to vets in need in my area and help them. I’m able to talk to them one on one and get them out in nature so they can experience the therapeutic benefits of kayak fishing,” said Carmon. “It’s so much more than fishing. It’s like you uncork a bottle and before you know it you are talking with others who have been there.”
Heroes on the Water is dedicated to providing therapeutic kayak fishing events for veterans, active-duty military and their families so they can experience a level of inner peace they perhaps have lost along the way. We are blessed to be a part of an amazing community of non-profit partners with a purpose to serve veterans and first-responders through our partnership with Carry the Load. Join us at this year’s CTL event centered around Memorial Day. You can learn more and sign up here, or donate directly and give that moment of inner peace.