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N.H. charities seek healing for veterans through fishing, hunting

  • A veteran is pictured fishing on Perry Stream in Pittsburg at the camp Warriors at 45 North. Founded by and for veterans, the camp seeks to bring small groups of veterans together outdoors to relax and heal. Courtesy

  • State Rep. James Spillane prepares to deliver a combined hunting and fishing license to a veteran.

  • Joe Brandl, the Henniker man who was the first recipient of a license from the New Hampshire Veterans Sportsman Foundation, poses with Mossy, his hunting and fishing companion.

Monitor staff
Published: 4/25/2016 9:37:36 AM

Jon Worrall was a 50-year-old Army sergeant on board an armored Humvee in Iraq when a roadside bomb exploded, ripping holes in the truck and unveiling “more violence than I’ve ever seen packed into a quarter second.”

No one was killed, but everyone involved was injured. Worrall returned home to Brentwood with a traumatic brain injury – among other wounds – that forced him to retire early from his job as a field inspector for Hartford Steam Boiler.

For many veterans, he said, shocks like these reverberate well after the soldier has come back to the United States, leaving him or her with post-traumatic stress disorder.

It was nearly 200 miles north at the rural camp he owned in Pittsburg that Worrall eventually found relaxation – and then he began to share it with other veterans.

Off Route 3 in New Hampshire’s northernmost town, if you take a right on a dirt road, and then a left on a smaller dirt road, you might find it, too. These days the getaway camp has evolved into a sanctioned nonprofit called Warriors at 45 North, with a bunkhouse for visitors that come from near and far.

Worrall said it’s a perfect place to hunt, fish or relax. Add in the camaraderie of fellow veterans, and it’s also a place to heal, he said.

“People have asked me, ‘Do you do counseling sessions?’ I said, ‘Nah, we go fishing.’ A group session to us is a tight grouping on the target,” he said.

Worrall’s philosophy is that getting veterans outdoors will help them find peace.

A local nonprofit recently founded by Deerfield state Rep. James Spillane has the same mission and is working to provide would-be hunters and fishers with licenses when they can’t afford them.

The New Hampshire Veterans Sportsman Foundation has so far in its first year provided the money for seven hunting and fishing licenses to New Hampshire veterans who otherwise would have had to go without.

Spillane, a Republican who represents Deerfield, Candia and Nottingham, said the applicants he’s spoken with have fallen upon financial difficulty and sacrificed their own pastime to provide for their families.

“Hunting was the first thing they gave up when the budget got tight,” he said.

But he recognizes the therapeutic benefits of getting outside, he said, and wanted to ensure someone is looking out for veterans’ well-being, even when they’ve decided they have to sacrifice. Hunting and fishing licenses cost upward of $50 in New Hampshire.

Spillane has already surpassed his stated goal of paying for five licenses this year. He hopes his foundation will slowly grow – perhaps with the help of commercial sponsors – as more veterans and potential donors learn of his plans.

For those who suffer from traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders, he said it can be an invigorating and life-changing experience to pick up an old hobby again. For him, hunting is an almost spiritual experience, he said.

“That has a deeper impact to me and my psyche than I’ve ever had in a pew in the church,” he said.

Spillane is working independently and partnering with Warriors at 45 North. He’s offered to pay for three licenses for New Hampshire visitors of the Pittsburg camp – so its operators can focus more of their money on room and board – and also intends to provide for those who only want to hunt and fish near their homes.

The first veteran to receive a combined hunting and fishing license from the New Hampshire Veterans Sportsman Foundation was Joe Brandl of Henniker. Brandl said there are 50 acres of woods across the street from his home where he hopes to put his new license to work.

Sometimes he’d go out with only a camera, he said, but now he’s thinking he might be able to bring dinner home with him, as well as a few photographs. He finds relaxation in the solitude of those woods, he said.

“A lot of the problems I have, a lot of the issues, I leave ’em back at the house,” he said. “I don’t bring ’em out with me.”

Brandl served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, an era when veterans didn’t return home to the same esteem that they do now. He said Spillane’s effort is welcome evidence that the public’s attitude toward veterans has shifted.

“They told us in boot camp, ‘Don’t wear your uniform when you get home. You’re probably going to get spit on and everything else,’ ” Brandl said. “My big war was coming back here and facing all the grief.”

At his camp, Worrall said veterans can sit around the campfire and benefit from trading stories about the shared experience, both of war and readjusting back home.

In some cases, veterans who served together overseas have reunited at Warriors at 45 North.

The first group trip to the camp, which is named for its latitudinal position on the 45th parallel, was with three other veterans, he said. Then it was nine. Then it was 20. Now, between 40 and 50 veterans come through each year.

Worrall said sponsors have been generous with their support, whether it’s donating a pistol for a raffle, raising money for a new four-wheeler or leaving a shiny new grill on the deck with a note inside that says simply: “Thanks.”

Spillane said he hopes the same will happen for his charity, so New Hampshire veterans can go hunting and fishing wherever they are.

For more information, visit nhvsf.com/nhvsf, email nhveteransportsman@yahoo.com, or write N.H. Veterans Sportsman Foundation, 16 Swamp Road, Deerfield 03037.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at
@NickBReid.)




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