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Local anglers work to bring war veterans to the HEALING WATERS

For many, fishing is a way to relax. For some, it’s is a way to forget.
“I have always liked to fish,” said Eric Loftis, a Greeneville resident and Iraq War veteran. “It puts me in a different place.”
Leaders of the national organization Project Healing Waters know Loftis is just one of thousands of military veterans who find being out on the water a way to forget – if only temporarily – what they’ve seen while away at war.
“Stress is a big thing today,” said Scott Scrip, a regional coordinator for Project Healing Waters. “Fishing can be very therapeutic. The point of this is to teach our veterans, our heroes, the art of fly fishing. We put them with the best guides in the country and send them to the best places in the world to fish.”
Last week, local anglers joined with Project Healing Waters to help even more veterans get that opportunity. Program leader Edgar Duffey and other members of East Tennessee Fly Fishers already have been spending time with disabled veterans, teaching them how to tie their own flies and instructing them on basic casting methods in area rivers.

Now, those volunteers have purchased a boat-building kit and will spend the next couple of months putting together a drift boat that will carry veterans further down the river, and further into the never-ending healing process.

“This means a lot because when I came back (from war), they were throwing rocks at us,” said Willie Baskerville, a Vietnam veteran who lives at the Mountain Home VA in Johnson City. “When you’re out there with just you and the fish, it’s such peace of mind. It takes me away from the war scenes in my head.”

Like Baskerville, Loftis, who was wounded in combat in 2005, also finds peace while fishing.

“In the military, you are accepted the way you are,” said Loftis, who did two tours of duty in Iraq before being sent home with injuries to his legs, sternum, ribs and clavicle caused by an IED. “When you come back, you feel like you are different to people. You feel like you don’t fit in. But when you get out on that boat, you start to relate to people again.”

Project Healing Waters plans to debut the boat – the first of three to be built by volunteers this year – in mid-May. Volunteers will spend an estimated 200 man hours building the boat at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office garage in Jonesborough.

For more information on Project Healing Waters, visit www.projecthealingwaters.org, or contact Duffey at (423) 276-2894.