Narragansett Surfcasters share an afternoon with veterans to fish and unwind.
“Thank you all very much for your service,” said Mark Rogers of the Narragansett Surfcasters fishing club. Those simple words were spoken many times as expressions of endless gratitude to veterans assembled at South Kingstown’s Scarborough Beach. Casting late afternoon shadows across the pavilion, Surfcasters joined with RIDEM’s Kimberly Sullivan to help twenty vets learn to handle long surf rods and quite possibly land a fish on a perfect summer afternoon. The Narragansett Surfcasters take veterans fishing because they thrive on charity and good fun. Without an official event name, the club had devoted their energies to gathering rods, reels and tackle to ensure vets had all they needed. When asked, Providence Vets Center Veteran Program Outreach Specialist Justyn Charon, said, “I don’t know, how about the 3rd Annual Surfcasters Veterans Edition?” Marines get things done.
Narragansett Surfcasters Build Community On the Beach
“We all talk about community. Well, this is what it’s all about,” Justyn said to the forty-plus group. Pizza and drinks were on picnic tables, along with old school brown paper lunch bags. Other tables supported line of new and used surf rods rigged with spoons, plastics, poppers, divers and swimmers. While there’s community through all branches, Justyn let slip a time-honored spark when he pointed towards or introduced a fellow Marine.
Alongside a “Welcome Home” tent, club member Jim Timpano, known around the beach as “The Reverend”, offered an introduction to some basics of swinging a nine or ten foot rod, how to reel, sight fish, use birds as signals, and stay safe. Full of pepperoni and cheese energy, vets were getting fidgety, looking at the water. Toes started to tap. Some vets were fishermen, others were new to the sport. As the Reverend spoke, Mark Rodgers leaned on a rail overlooking a long sweep of nearly empty beach. “Hey!” he said in a low tone, “Look there, fish. Breaking the surface, over there!” Just seeing fish can bring grownups right back to that first tug of a line and that spark was precisely what the Surfcasters gathered to share.
The sun was warm, air just cool enough, seas calm and a few birds circled. Once veterans had a rod and a Surfcaster partner, everyone headed for the wash. A few swirls could still be seen to the south. Some first casts were lumpy and occasionally crossed other lines but honestly, none of that changes even after thirty years of casting. Army veteran Evan set up just north of his Marine son, Paul. Paul paused carefully before each cast, looking back at his lure, ensuring situational awareness, absorbing the moments. Some gorgeous late day sun made the whole scene pure magic for a father and son fishing. “I didn’t even get a chance to blast this out,” Justyn said, before it was already filled.
Patience, respect and a little privacy builds community
“I try to express the value of community,” Justyn said. The Vet Center provides private conversations and counseling with group get-togethers which significantly strengthen veteran bonds. He coordinates weekly outings with the Narragansett Bow Hunters, organizes diving and writing groups, and chicken barbeques to keep his people involved. We can say thank you, and that is always important, but few of us civilians will fully understand the real price of service veterans experience, especially combat veterans. Personally, writing about vets is a tightrope assignment. Who-what-when is superseded by observations and respect for privacy. I don’t own enough paper to fully express my appreciation for so many putting their lives and futures on the line so we can walk a beach at sunset and worry only about finding birds or not dropping car keys in the sand.
Narragansett Surfcasters take veterans fishing as an act of appreciation. Club members watched, advised when appropriate and stood back when that was most helpful. Sometimes, recovery begins with a quiet talk; other times it starts standing up to your knees in the ocean.
There are benefits on both sides of this volunteer equation. Good fishermen and women are happy to share knowledge as good teachers love to interact with students. When we get to teach someone a knot or even just tie one for them without any instruction, we are benefiting our own happiness as we help a new friend along. That’s balance.
When you remove what you were expecting and expect to just to meet and offer, you eliminate prejudices or preconcieved notions about the whole deal. My photos accompanying this story are not spectacular, for a reason. Justyn’s are far better because he has a relationship with veterans and understands who deserves a bit more privacy, even in public. This day was for solid people who defend our country so their privacy was paramount. Take in the light, smiles and focus. There’s joy in every shot, no matter how technically weak mine might be.
‘They have a fish!” Justyn yelled. Three female vets had worked their way south, right into a hungry 18” bluefish. Then to the north, Ed was on with another. Catching isn’t always the point but it sure gets the troops excited. As darkness overtook the beach, I noticed Paul continued rhythmically casting. With each swing, his lure went a few feet farther.
“I’m so proud of you,” someone said. Surfcasters’ President Bruce Bain watched a long line of anglers with a smile. The Narragansett Surfcasters, through their personal donations, ensured veterans kept their rod and reel, in addition to that old school lunch bag, heavy with lures. They are a source of endless gratitude and charity, proven by consistent acts of generosity and community support. At days end, regardless of your branch, assignment, history or recovery needs, Justyn will talk possibilities with you because community helps rebuilds the spirit. And club members will get you casting beyond the surf line in no time.
The Vet Center offers several options of counseling, outreach and referral services for veterans and their families. Located at 2038 Warwick Avenue in Warwick, their website is www.va.gov/providence-vet-center. You can call Justyn at 401-739-0167. The Veterans Crisis Line can be reached by dialing 988 and pressing 1. There are several ways to donate to veteran support groups, including Beyond The Battle, which does amazing work with a mission to provide opportunities for individuals to escape their personal battles through outdoor adventures and financial support. Please learn more at www.beyondthebattle.org.
A few hours earlier, as The Reverend turned his flock of anglers east, Mark Rogers held his hands up, surveyed the group and said, “I don’t have anything else to say now, except, thank you.”