When 32-year-old Wes Dyer came back from Afghanistan, he wasn’t doing well. “I was that ‘hard-hearted man’ when I came back from combat.”
If other veterans were experiencing what he was, Dyer wanted to do something about it so he founded the non profit organization AWOL Angler. He’s now a fly fishing guide at Reel Life in Santa Fe, New Mexico, helping veterans like Ryan Birdsell of Tuscaloosa, Alabama readjust to civilian life.
The military gave Dyer a sense of purpose, and he missed the friendships he developed after retiring from the Marines. Dyer served as a bomb dog handler with the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009.
You can have two different lives. There’s the one where survival is just a part of life in a war torn country and another when you come home to peace time.
There’s a complete change that vets can have such a hard time adjusting to. Fresh air, sunshine, freedom from civilization and someone to talk to who has been there himself makes a world of difference. Being “out on the water in pursuit of an unforgiving and at times elusive opponent,” makes Dyer “feel like he’s in his element.”
Since he thought of this in 2017, he put a lot of time and energy into getting the project running. A big help came from attracting sponsors such as Ivan Valdez, owner of Reel Life.
He was joined by the owners of Buffalo Thunder Resort, and Joseph Talachy, the governor of Pojoaque Pueblo.
Southwest Airlines provides free round trip tickets for the veterans hand picked by Dyer. Trout Stalker Ranch rounds out the helping hands with lodging accommodations.
Dyer tells his guests essentially to leave their wallets at home. “They don’t open their wallets for anything. We need to take care of our veterans, we wouldn’t be here without them.” Indeed.
The veterans Dyer picks are flown into Albuquerque, New Mexico and given a ride to Santa Fe. There, they are fitted with waders, boots, rod and reel. The night is spent at Buffalo Thunder and the next morning they’re headed for Chama where they will lay their head for a couple days at the Trout Stalker Ranch.
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Mother Nature and water is an amazing, helpful tool for healing.
“Doctors are starting to prescribe nature as an alternative to traditional medicines,” Ashlyn Perry, who is co-owner of Trout Stalker Ranch insists. “When you are fly-fishing, you are so focused that some of those worldly problems disappear. You’re able to forget them momentarily.”
Dyer would like to see this go nationwide.