“That event itself was life changing”

The life of one medically retired United States Marine changed forever after coming into contact with the nonprofit organization Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc.

“I believe it’s an outstanding organization that is perfect right now for the pulse of America and the veteran community,” Peter Paskewicz, a Cape Coral, Florida resident, said. “It’s a little niche not found out there.”

Approximately six months ago, Paskewicz paid a visit to his local bait store, which resulted in an invitation to talk to the organization after asking about other veterans in the area that enjoyed fishing. He said he happened to be in the store when Dave Souders, co-founder of the organization, was also there.

“That is basically how I really got connected,” Paskewicz said.

He joined the Marines and served for three years during the first Gulf Wars from 1990 to 1993.

“I was with some very outstanding people and I know that the Marines made a positive influence on my life,” he said. “I wish I could go back. I love it.”

Paskewicz sustained lower extremity injuries, some of which include a lower back injury from a fall and a shattered hip.

He said since he has some physical problems, he wanted to get to know other veterans who liked to fish, a passion he found when he was a youngster.

“I enjoy the environment,” Paskewicz said of why he loves fishing. “I believe we are connected to the water in one way. If the water is healthy, I believe the rest of the environment is healthy.”

Before medically retiring from the service, he said fishing had always been his most private and personal time where he could reflect back on the good in his life, as well as allow all the negative things to fade away.

As a wounded warrior who loves fishing, Wounded Warrior Anglers was a perfect match for this gentleman.

battle of matlachaThe organization helps its warriors by taking them out on the water for a day of fishing, an outing that promotes a friendly and peaceful environment to help warriors heal.

“I think the Wounded Warrior Anglers provides a platform that is easy for people to meet and greet one another,” Paskewicz said.

He said the commonality and disability portion of the organization really brings everything together, making Wounded Warrior Anglers what it is today.

He said after leaving the service, fishing provided a new kind of therapy.

“It made me feel like I am still capable of doing things, still capable of accomplishing goals,” Paskewicz said. “It gives me a sense of achievement.”

Wounded Warrior Anglers holds a few retreats throughout the year that invites wounded warriors and their caregivers to Matlacha, Florida, for a day of relaxation on the water fishing, or at Spa 33, with others who have gone through similar experiences.

“That was a very important day for me and my family,” Paskewicz said of the retreat he attended about two months ago. “I had been struggling with medications and pain for about six and a half years and not feeling very good about fishing or anything.”

Once this wounded warrior received an invitation to his first retreat, it provided him with the freedom to go out fishing, while knowing he was not alone, knowing he was going to be with other wounded warriors.

“That event itself was life changing for me,” he said. “I have a whole new attitude. It was absolutely what I needed.”

That single day of camaraderie, that one day of sharing a love of fishing with others, has kept positive thoughts flowing through Paskewicz.

“I’m very grateful for the Wounded Warriors and I feel strongly that it is something really needed in our communities today for our veterans and community members as well,” he said. “It brings veterans closer to the community and the community closer to the veterans. I think it is an outstanding platform.”

Paskewicz recently volunteered at the organization’s 2nd annual Redfish Poker Fishing Championship, in memory of Sgt. John R. Pestel, last month. He said he provided a helping hand in the morning to set things up and whatever else was needed to show support.

“I was approached by at least 100 people that day, all thanking me for my service,” he said.

Those words touched this Marine.

“It was an honor,” Paskewicz said. “It made me feel proud and glad I served for people like them. That was a very special day in itself also. The civilians got to interact with the veterans and I think it was great

A veteran’s words

“I think the organization, as of right now, is perfect,” Donald Cyr of Vero Beach said Thursday afternoon.

That organization is Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc., a nonprofit that was founded in 2012 by Dave and Judy Souders.  Its mission is to “help rehabilitate the mind, body and soul of all service members who have been injured, wounded or disabled in the line of duty no matter what their era of service.”

Donald, who is currently in his 30’s, served in the Marine Corps., as well as the Army for a total of 7 1/2 years. He said joining the Marines was something he thought about and looked forward to while in high school.

“I got into the Marines and then the war was about to begin and I wanted to be a part of it,” he said, adding that the Army took him first.

He left the Marine Corps in January 2003 and “jumped” into the Army in March 2003. Donald was deployed three times, all in Baghdad, Iraq.

Luckily, he did not suffer any physical injuries during his service. With that said, he still suffers from the trauma of the war, the emotional and psychological aspect. Donald said seeing his friends go through the whole process of getting injured was and still is difficult.

It’s an ongoing battle, one that he said will be there forever.

When talking about his service, the word “camaraderie” was expressed on many occasions. Donald said the Marine Corps and the Army are like two brothers – you feel a part of a family, a rather large family.

Donald is still in contact with those he went to war with. He said he moved to Vero Beach because of a friend he served with. That friend also introduced him to Judy and Dave about a year ago.

battle of matlachaThis is where the beauty of Wounded Warrior Anglers of America comes into play . . .  this organization is another form of a family, one that continues to improve the lives of everyone it touches.

Donald said it is great to see and meet the two people who run the organization – Judy and Dave. He expressed that many times you do not know the people who are behind the organization.

“They are a little more homey,” he said of Judy and Dave. “It feels like family to me, just because they are part of that organization. They are actually a part of it and they are there and making sure things are running well. I think it’s a really good way to do it. Other organizations you have programs that you really don’t know what’s going on.”

The homey, family oriented atmosphere that Judy and Dave provide, was the reason Donald wanted to show his daughter what Wounded Warrior Anglers is all about.

Donald had the privilege of experiencing the program Wounded Warrior Anglers offers first hand again last month with his 14-year-old daughter. He was treated to a two-day retreat out on the water fishing with Dave and his daughter.

He recalls those two days being therapeutic and very relaxing.

“It can also be a lot of fun, especially when you are catching fish,” Donald said.

He shared that the first time he was taken out on a retreat he enjoyed the ability to talk to his fellow veterans about anything – life in general – what’s going on in each of their lives.

“That’s really what it is all about,” Donald said.

Although he did not catch anything last month, his daughter did – two red fish and a couple of catfish. Donald said after that day, his daughter told him she understood why he goes fishing, that it was so nice and calm.

“That’s why I wanted to bring her out there,” he said, adding he also wanted that bonding time with his daughter.

Before we ended our conversation, Donald expressed that he wanted to thank everyone that is part of the organization.

“I know Judy and Dave work very hard to put this stuff together and also the people that you don’t see that make all the effort as well,” he said. “I want to thank them . . . let them know I am thankful.”

This is just one wounded warrior the organization has touched. These stories warm my heart and give me a sense of joy because some of their trauma was taken away for an extended amount of time.

Thank you Donald for your service, thank you for fighting for our freedom.