Proof it's more than "just fishing", this is how the pursuit of speckled trout reinvented the transition to civilian life for a combat veteran.
My name is Devin. I'm a former Marine, security contractor and combat veteran of the Iraq War.
I have not one, two, or three deployments overseas, but twenty.
Two-zero. Twenty. Spread out over ten years.
And when I tell people that (which is rare) I see a distinct shift in their demeanor.
I instantly go from being another person in the room to being the "guy messed up by the war".
Honestly, those times in Iraq were the best of my life. They were exciting and the challenge kept me coming back for more.
No, I do not believe I am worse off. Instead , I subscribe to General Mattis' train-of-thought:
While victimhood in America is exalted I don't think our veterans should join those ranks.
You've been told that you're broken, that you're damaged goods...there is also a post-traumatic growth. You come back from war stronger and more sure of who you are.
- General James "Mad Dog" Mattis, Secretary of the Department of Defense
I cannot agree more.
Being exposed to war before I was old enough to buy a beer was the catalyst to grow fast.
But, despite this growth, I've come to learn there were difficulties adjusting to normal life back home.
Spring of 2009 was the longest I had been home. I was between deployments and content to catch up with old friends.
But it was not as I expected.
I quickly became bored. There was nothing exciting or challenging to do.
Drinking and going out quickly lost its luster. I hated being hungover and I felt the crowd of high-school buddies I was hanging out with weren't that entertaining.
These feelings were further solidified when I learned they were taking advantage of me while I was gone.
Example? Trying to hook up with my girlfriend while I sat in Iraq.
Yeah, I thought coming home was going to be great.
But instead it sucked. I grew to hate being home.
I felt like I was alone. I didn't really connect with people. My experiences were so different from theirs. We had little in common.
It was as if I were deployed to my hometown. My house was the forward operating base and my real home was a dusty Conex box near the Tigris River.
I kinda just wanted to go back overseas and be with my real friends. But I was stuck like chuck in Slidell, Louisiana.
This was depressing for me.
An Unexpected Turn
Not really sure if it was a good move or not, I dragged the old flatboat out, got the 2-stroke running and hit the water to go fishing.
It was the first time I had been fishing in years.
After landing a few speckled trout and a big bull red, I was hooked all over again.
The next morning I was back on the water, looking for trout. I didn't return until the sun went down.
And then again. And again. And again. Always chasing the fish.
I eventually learned what I was really after. It was not the fish, but the challenge that kept me coming back for more.
Inshore fishing fulfilled me in a way other things could not.
What you don't see.
I'm not denying PTSD. It does exist. I've seen it. It's an ugly thing.
One of the best men I knew was found behind a dumpster. He died cold and alone.
I just told you PTSD is an ugly thing.
A lot of combat veterans end up sinking into depression, and I believe this is because they get "coolest thing I ever did" syndrome.
The meme is pretty accurate, and this "syndrome" isn't exclusive to combat veterans.
It happened to astronauts, too.
Buzz Aldrin fell into a serious bout of depression and alcoholism following the Apollo moon landing.
After all, how could he possibly top going to the moon? Or relate to others who haven't?
Fishing really is more than "just fishing".
Years ago, I had the option to sink or swim.
Sinking meant falling into depression, ruining relationships and possibly suck-starting the business end of my Glock 23.
Swimming meant discovering something I could be on fire for, continuing to grow and giving something back, just as I did in the Marines.
I made the choice, and inshore fishing gave me the option.
I'm writing this so you know you also have that option.
If you've never caught a redfish, you should give it a try.
The sunrises and bent rods will have you coming back for more, giving you a tool to re-invent your life with meaning, passion and purpose.
Tight lines, y'all.