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In the chair without a care.

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Wounded Warriors Return to the Sea...

In hot pursuit of fish. And well-earned fun in the sun. At sea.

We could all use a little “recovery” time after a pandemic, the ensuing economic chaos, and now a conflict in Europe. This month, nine wounded veterans got just that-- a few days of seriously well-earned time just to breathe, heal and have a blast chasing fish across the Sea of Cortez.

A group of locals has been taking wounded veterans to Mexico for more than a decade as part of the mission for Outdoor Adventures for Wounded Veterans, a Tucson-based non-profit. 

These men and women wounded in combat put aside their worries to just fish, eat and laugh.

“This gives them a bond that lasts forever,” said (retired) Col. Cosme Lopez, adding that “for a few days they don’t have worries about doctors or house bills or what’s going on in their lives back home.”

Col. Lopez, who served in the U.S. Army for 26 years before retiring, is the point person who recruits wounded veterans throughout the year. “I’m working on the group for next June right now,” he said.

Brothers Michael and Norman Don, along with Matt Wallace and Rom Dryden, are the logistical heartbeat of the effort. “We each have our strong points and split up the effort. One of us gets the boats or gets the lodging lined up. Or the food and beverages. Or coordinates the actual fishing,” Col. Lopez said.

But it is the hour-by-hour support of the vets that takes an even larger crew, said Wallace. “It’s usually about a 1-to-1 ratio of the vets and our support team on the ground throughout the trip.”

Years of leadership serving in the Army helps Col. Lopez and the others find the right balance between keeping them safe and supported while not becoming caretakers, Col. Lopez said. “They don’t want to be babied.”

But there are real issues to consider. Some veterans were blinded in battle. Others are missing both legs. Many are still working through post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other internal challenges.

“Sometimes they try to make their issues less than they really are,” Col. Lopez said. “We are really careful of individual needs. It’s a balance.”

And once on the water, the real purpose becomes clear: finding peace and having fun with their worries left back on land. 

Oh, and trying to one-up each other. Many trips include an informal fishing tournament to see who catches the biggest or most fish. “One year, the winner was a guy who lost his sight while serving,” Wallace said. "These vets are competitive and driven by their very nature. It's great to be there."

Col. Lopez added that occasionally there are unexpected challenges. One warrior had to return to Tucson after the first day, unable to settle in due to mental trauma sustained in Afghanistan. And other times, “we will have a guy or two who think they might get in a little trouble down in Mexico,” Lopez said.

Another challenge has been keeping these efforts going, during, and after the pandemic. "We are only as strong as our supporters. They have been so critical to all of this. And they are all coming back to help put these trips together," Col. Lopez said.

This year’s trip is June 16-20. But the non-profit team also looks for other adventures across the region. For example, if a hunter cannot make their hunt, the team will work with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to enable a wounded veteran to step in to pursue an antelope or elk or deer.

“We will then work with an outfitter or guide to support (the veteran) in the field,” Col. Lopez said. “It’s just the power and therapy of being out there.”

  • Mind your lines.
  • Dorado for dinner.
  • In the chair without a care.
  • Arrived in San Carlos!
  • Packing up in Tucson for the trip south.
  • Billfish on!
  • The group from 2018