Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty: Kodiak Chief Petty Officers Association

Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Charly Hengen

A Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing member and Vic Laird, a retired Coast Guardsman, fish in Saltry River on Kodiak Island, Alaska, July 25, 2017. The Kodiak Chief Petty Officers Association partnered with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing and hosted six veterans to Kodiak for a week of fishing. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing member and Vic Laird, a retired Coast Guardsman, fish in Saltry River on Kodiak Island, Alaska, July 25, 2017. The Kodiak Chief Petty Officers Association partnered with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing and hosted six veterans to Kodiak for a week of fishing. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Fly fishing has a way of healing a person, especially when that person is an active duty or military veteran who has been negatively affected in some way while serving his country.

For eight years, the Chief Petty Officers Association of Kodiak, Alaska, has provided a way for veterans to come to Kodiak Island and escape into nature to heal. Volunteers donate their time and resources to coordinate and organize a week of fly fishing to provide a way for others to rehabilitate physically and emotionally.

The Chief Petty Officers Association of Kodiak was awarded the Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Patriot Award at a banquet, July 28, 2017, in Kodiak for their continued support.

“The Patriot Award is Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing’s highest and most prestigious award and is bestowed upon individuals or organizations that have demonstrated, over time, continuous and extraordinary service to PHWFF as an organization, and to those whom the organization serves,” said Ed Nicholson, Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing founder and president.

This continuous and extraordinary service started with Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Dave Curran who was reading through a fishing magazine, saw information about PHWFF and decided to contact them.

“I knew I wanted to do something with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing as I love to fly fish and I wanted to give back,” said Curran. “So I called them and asked them if they were interested and explained I lived in Kodiak.”

The organization was highly interested, but didn’t have deep pockets like other organizations have in order to fund a trip for a group of individuals to Kodiak. Determined to sponsor a group, Curran worked tirelessly to get donations and assistance from the CPOA, the American Legion, and many other Kodiak organizations. A PHWFF group came to Kodiak for the first time in 2010 followed by additional groups annually.

“I have been a guide for four years when the veterans come for the annual PHWFF trip,” said Curran. “It’s emotional for me and I love doing it. It’s one of the hardest things I have done and it’s extremely challenging as it brings back strong memories for me.”

Curran’s memories are deeply rooted in fly fishing trips he would take with his brother, Carl, until Carl was tragically killed in action by an improvised explosive device in 2004 while deployed to Iraq.

“The next big fishing trip we had planned was robbed from me,” said Curran. “The PHWFF trips are how I got it back. It’s a healing process for me and for those who come to Kodiak.”

Curran transferred out of Kodiak in 2014, and passed the torch to Vic Laird, a retired chief petty officer who works at Base Kodiak.

Laird has led the project since Curran departed and has ensured the commitment to excellence and dedication are upheld. He has been involved with the PHWFF trip since its inception.

“We go to great lengths to get our guests taken care of each year,” said Laird. “I love to do this; it’s a chance for me to give back and to help expose other Coast Guardsmen to something else other than our Coast Guard life.”

An enormous amount of volunteer work goes into this trip each and every year.

“A house at Saltry River is provided to the group for a few nights during the week,” said Laird. “That has been a great resource since we don’t have to come back to hotel rooms each day we are at Saltry.”

At least 20 volunteers assisted in 2017 as they helped provide fishing boats, fuel for the fishing vessels, offered four-wheeler use, provided meals, served as fishing guides, and provided numerous other logistical elements.

“The veterans who come love this trip,” said Laird. “By the end of the week, friendships are established. I even get texts to this day from others I’ve made friends with from previous years. It’s a long distance friendship, but it’s that camaraderie that’s formed that lasts a lifetime.”

Mark Middleton, a retired Navy chief boatswains mate, came to Kodiak this year and cherished the trip of a lifetime.

“When I got off the plane in Anchorage, I realized this trip was about to unfold, and I got excited,” said Middleton. “When I hit the ground in Kodiak I was in awe and disbelief and I almost had to pinch myself.”

Middleton’s trip to Kodiak will be remembered with memories of his Coast Guard brothers and sisters for their diligent care and attention to detail.

“I took away a new look and understanding in life,” said Middleton. “I feel as if I’m a part of something special. I volunteer with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, but this trip and the organization has helped me realize it’s about brothers and sisters together finding themselves without judgment or fault. I didn’t know what I was missing until I got involved with fellow veterans – that brotherhood and camaraderie.”

The Kodiak CPOA will continue to build relationships for many years to come and it’s evident through the Patriot Award that they know how to display honor, respect and devotion to duty.

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