Wounded veterans treated to fishing outing at Rodman
ORANGE SPRINGS – Purple Heart recipient Brian Eisch caught the “big one” Saturday while on a fishing trip with three other wounded veterans.
The four men, all of whom were awarded the Purple Heart for their service in the Global War on Terrorism, were treated to two days of fishing and cookouts as part of the Wounded Warriors In Action program.
“The guys hollered to hold the fish up over my head,” Eisch said about the 10-pound, 1-ounce bass he landed, then let go.
The soldiers were invited to the catch-and-release outings, hosted by Orange Springs residents Charlie and Jackie Lawson, after applying online at the Wounded Warriors In Action website.
Participating were Eisch, 37, of Lacona, New York; Charles Lusk, 29, of Canton, Ga.; Jake Whipkey, 26, of Boswell, Penn.; and Jeremy Cabaniss, 31, of Panama City Beach. All are U.S. Army veterans.
They gathered with fellow outdoorsmen for a weekend of camaraderie and healing “using nature as a backdrop,” said Wounded Warriors In Action founder John McDaniel, a retired Army Lt. Col. The program covered all the expenses, said McDaniel.
The Rodman Reservoir, where the group fished, is adjacent to the Ocklawaha River in the heavily wooded northeast tip of Marion county. The wide grins and gleams in the eyes of the four soldiers as they returned from their outings spoke loud and clear.
“This is huge, to know people still care,” Lusk said as he talked about the day’s catch on Saturday evening at the Lawson home.
Lusk, an Army Ranger sniper, was injured in Iraq in 2004 by shrapnel from a car bomb and again in 2005 by shrapnel from an improvised explosive device.
“I’ve had five years of speech therapy, 16 sessions in a hyperbaric chamber (from the 2005 wounds) and I lost part of my ear,” said Lusk, who with wife Daphne has a daughter Mattie, 6.
“I met Sen. John Kerry and (country singer) Toby Keith pinned on my Purple Heart,” Lusk said, “but this fishing trip is great with friends.”
The boats put in at the Kenwood Office of Greenways and Trails Recreation Area and fished in “water about eight-feet-deep with the drawdown,” or intentional vegetation control lowering, said guide Don Storey.
“This is a big deal, I’ll never forget it,” said Eisch, who was in the service for 19 years and was wounded Nov. 3, 2010. “America is a very generous country if you’ll just look around. A lady from Florida, on the plane here from New York, offered me the use of her family home if I need it and gave me her email address. This is patriotism to me.”
Eisch, a single father of Isaac, 13, and Joey, 9, said telling his sons he was going away and might not return, when he was first deployed to Afghanistan, was “a hard talk.”
Eisch was shot three times in the legs when he went to the aid of an Afghani police officer who was downed by a rocket propelled grenade attack and was still in the line of fire.
“He was out there and the Afghanis weren’t going,” Eisch said. ”He was a team member and I said, ‘Let’s get him.’ It was training and reaction when I went after him.”
Eisch suffered damaged to both legs, with extensive damage to his left calf. He can walk, but not run. He is angered he cannot do some things he could before, but said, “It comes with the territory. We’re all volunteers.
“My Purple Heart was pinned on by a German Minster of Defense because it was a German controlled area in Afghanistan. I believe it was the first time,” Eisch said.
He also was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions.
Whipkey suffered five gunshot wounds to the chest and two to the wrist while serving in Samara, Iraq, in 2007. He medically retired in 2009.
“I can raise my arm to here,” he said, lifting his right arm to less than shoulder height. He said protective equipment stopped the bullets aimed at his chest and saved his life.
Whipley, who is single, is a student and an associate with Wounded Warriors In Action.
“This is awesome,” he said of the fishing trip. “It’s a tribute to (earlier veterans) for the great welcome we are receiving.”
Cabaniss suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2006 and medically retired in 2007. He was accompanied by his wife, Deanna.
“Jeremy bent down to retrieve something and a rocket propelled grenade hit the turret of his vehicle,” Deanna said. “He suffers memory loss, seizures and debilitating migraines.”
“I had great time fishing,” Jeremy said.
He was wearing a bracelet honoring Sgt. Patrick Tainsh, who died while serving in Iraq in 2004. Tainsh’s parents became close with Cabaniss when they met at a medical facility, said Deanna.
McDaniel said he started Wounded Warriors In Action in 2007 after he retired from a 20-year service career and began taking Veterans Administration hospital patients fishing.
“In 2011, the WWIA program hosted over 100 Purple Heart recipients on 43 hunting and fishing trips in 26 states, and we hope for the honor to do more this year,” he said as he and his wife Kellie addressed the group Sunday.
He thanked the Lawsons for “opening their homes and opening their hearts.”
Charlie Lawson is a Vietnam War veteran.
“These Purple Heart recipients are American heroes and American sportsmen,” McDaniel said. “We help heal the wounds doctors can’t fix.”