I’ve had the honor and pleasure of guiding many active
military folks and even more veterans. From a three-star Pentagon general to a 20 year-old Army Ranger sniper headed overseas for his first tour in Iraq the week after we fished together…a Navy husband and wife, both helicopter pilots, who were headed back for their second tour and the first woman to graduate from the Army Airborne jump school who was upset because the Army stationed her in a recruiting center and another Navy couple on their honeymoon who, when I asked the woman what she did in the Navy, told me with pride, “I drive the ships”. Regardless of what we may think about the current wars, these are all very special people.
I met, Army Ranger, Major Jesse Stewart last month and we fished together for two days. It was Jesse’s first vacation in nine years and his first trout caught on a fly in ten years. Jesse wanted to use the fly rod that his dad had given him many years ago, the same rod that he had learned to fly fish with on the streams near his home in northern Washington.
Jesse is currently the youngest Major in the Army…he has served three tours in Iraq and lead humanitarian service in New Orleans after Katrina. Three years ago, Jesse took eighteen pieces of shrapnel from a suicide bomber that killed one of his soldiers standing beside him. He showed me the scars…with humor, he pointed out that they had done a better job patching up his head wounds than the wounds on his arm and side. For his bravery and sacrifice, Jesse was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor, Purple Heart and Meritorious Service medals, among many others. This is a very special young man.
It didn’t take Jesse very long to catch his first trout and I could almost see the tension and stress melt away as we worked our way up the river. Jesse is an intensely focused person who is used to doing things precisely...so he was kind of upset when he missed a strike, but there weren’t too many missed strikes! On our second day together, I “put the hammer down” and took Jesse to places I like to fish…gnarly wading, tough water, lots of gymnastics and bigger fish. He was up to it.
Now, Jesse is back in training and will probably be sent to Afghanistan. But to honor the twenty-two soldierswho lost their lives, out of the three hundred soldiers from Jesse’s unit during the Iraq “surge”, Taskforce 300 (modern day Spartans), he will run a series of races across the United States, Iraq and Afghanistan. These races will include several short to mid-distance races (including a 10-mile race in Iraq and the Afghanistan Marathon in October), an Ultra Marathon, and will culminate with the Ford Iron Man (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run). Upon completion, he will have totaled over 322 miles. 300 miles for “Task Force 300” and an additional mile for each man killed in action. When the 322 miles are completed, he will continue to run ultra-endurance events to maintain the legacy of the “American Spartan 300”. The donations and other profits from this endeavor will go to establish scholarship foundations for each of the children left behind without a father from Task Force 300. For the men who died who did not have children, a one-time monetary gift will be given to the families (next of kin) for use at their discretion.Jesse called me the day after our time together and told me that he had slept two full nights, for the first time in eight years, without a sleeping pill. He was still glowing from the joy of being back on the water and catching fish…this meant more to me than any gratuity ever will. Oh yeah, a few days after our trips, Jesse decided to run up Pikes Peak with a full pack…his only comment was, “ I didn’t realize how cold it was going to be up there!”
This is a very special young man.