Helping veterans heal on the fly

By on November 12, 2018
In 2016 at the 10th Annual Project Healing Waters Two-Fly Tournament on the Rose River in Virginia. Provided photo

In 2016 at the 10th Annual Project Healing Waters Two-Fly Tournament on the Rose River in Virginia. Provided photo

Rob Burke grew up in Greece and graduated from Greece Arcadia High School in 2000. He attended college at SUNY Oswego where he played baseball. In September 2001, Rob was a sophomore at Oswego when the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists. Rob always had an interest in civil service or military service but the attack on our country deepened his ambition to pursue military service.

In 2005, Burke graduated from college and joined the Army. He commissioned as an Infantry Officer, completed Ranger school and was assigned to Fort Drum. Rob’s first deployment was in 2007 to Iraq as a Platoon Leader with Charlie Company, 1-87INF 10th Mountain. He was stationed on a Patrol Base in Northern Iraq when he was seriously injured while performing a night raid. Rob was hit with multiple gunshots to his torso, leg and shoulder. He was immediately flown to Germany to stabilize and then on to Walter Reed Medical Center in D.C. for further medical treatment. He then was moved to the West Point Warrior Transition Unit where he underwent intensive recovery. Rob spent 11 months recovering from his combat injuries. Once he was recovered, he returned to his unit and completed another deployment from 2010-2011 to Northern Afghanistan as an Infantry Captain. Captain Burke left active duty in the Army after his return from his final deployment, he then joined the New York National Guard as a training officer. Rob’s military service awards include the Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge, Two Bronze Star Medals, as well as many others.

Rob Burke during his second deployment to Afghanistan in 2010-2011. Provided photo

Rob Burke during his second deployment to Afghanistan in 2010-2011. Provided photo

A program that really helped aid in Rob’s recovery from his physical and emotional combat injuries is Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc. Project Healing Waters is a program that was offered to Rob at Walter Reed to assist servicemen and women to recover physically and emotionally through therapeutic fly fishing, activities and educational outings. PHWFF began in 2005 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to serve wounded military service members returning from combat in the Middle East. Due to the program’s success in providing therapeutic outdoor recreation to disabled service members, it expanded nationwide.

When Rob returned to Fort Drum in 2009 it was on his heart to bring this healing program to the war transition unit at his base. Burke felt the Salmon River and bodies of water located throughout Central New York would be a great place for Project Healing Waters, so he set out to make it happen. The Fort Drum Chapter began in 2009. It provided veteran interaction and offered solace in tranquil waters to war veterans from Vietnam, Iraq, the Gulf War and newly returning veterans from Afghanistan. “It provides great therapy to veterans with traumatic brain injury. The fly fishing helps with motor skills and dexterity. Regardless of the person’s disabilities and athletic ability, they can still benefit from the quietness of the stream and the veteran interaction,” Rob said.

PHWFF is a non-profit organization and relies on the generosity of individuals as well as private and corporate sponsors. All fly fishing and tying equipment is provided at no cost to eligible military members. Fishing trips are also provided free of charge to the participants. As part of this program, Rob has been on fishing trips with other veterans and their spouses to Alaska, Montana and Virginia. He said, “The trips provide a great opportunity for relationship building during times that wounded veterans can become secluded. Project Healing Waters helps get them out of their comfort zone and into streams to interact and heal.”

Fly fishing in the Salmon River. Photo by Grant Taylor Photography

Fly fishing in the Salmon River. Photo by Grant Taylor Photography

Rob was the founding volunteer with the Fort Drum PHWFF Chapter and served as the Program Leader from 2009-2011. When he relocated to the Syracuse area he became a veteran’s ambassador for the Syracuse PHWFF Program. Rob, his wife and their two daughters now live in the Syracuse area. Rob Burke is a NYS Trooper on the Special Operations Response Team. The purpose of the Special Operations Response Team is to support the New York State Police with a tactical response to critical events and other specialized assignments within the state. He said, “I am so grateful to the Project Healing Waters Program. It has done so much for me and my family.”

To learn more about Project Healing Waters or find a chapter, visit https://projecthealingwaters.org/

Fishing friends at a PHWFF Salmon River Event. (L-R) Rob Burke, Matt Smythe, Veteran and Guide, and Daniel Morgan, PHWFF Media Director. Provided photo

Fishing friends at a PHWFF Salmon River Event. (L-R) Rob Burke, Matt Smythe, Veteran and Guide, and Daniel Morgan, PHWFF Media Director. Provided photo

 

 

 

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