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Outdoors by Will Elliott: Providing opportunity to those who served

Many programs offering outings for impaired/handicapped military service personnel do not include ventures involving fishing and hunting pursuits.

Many other outdoors programs for injured vets provide hunting and fishing trips that end with the activity’s end.

Marine Chaplain Maj. Jeremiah “Chappy” Catlin, assigned to duty in Iraq from 2006 to 2008, was one of four soldiers medically evacuated in 2007 into a transition/recovery unit; Catlin was the only one of the four wounded to survive.

His recovery/transition time prompted him to think about ways to help wounded soldiers recover more effectively and more fully; he thought recovery would improve with spiritual support as well as outdoors involvements in which the soldiers were interested.

Catlin thought about offering trips that provided more than just outings. He began in 2008, planning a number of fishing trips for vets on Lake Anna near Spotsylvania in Virginia, calling it Chappy’s Outdoors.

“I was surprised that the first outing drew 50 wounded veterans and about 35 boaters who volunteered to take the soldiers fishing,” he said.

Since that 2008 start, the program has sent more than 1,200 deserving veterans to 26 states on hunts for 16 game species. Angling outings included tournament entries or recreational runs for 18 varieties of fish.

Along with outings, Catlin and his volunteer helpers offered what he calls “support with life skills and finding hope as well while enjoying the outdoors.” He found hidden blessings with each outing and never dreamt it would become this big. He readily notes that the program he founded as Chappy’s Outdoors began with the blessings of devoted volunteers and a system that returns virtually all of its income to serving the veteran service men and women.

Bob Johnson of Jamestown noted that he and all local and national workers are unpaid volunteers.

“We can devote 94 or 95 percent of donated funds directly into Chappy’s Outdoors programs to benefit the soldiers,” he said.

Catlin said usually less than six percent of donations go to insurances and office supplies.

Johnson, a longtime and energetically involved volunteer officer with Christian Bowhunters, a Jamestown-based archery program, learned of the Chappy’s Outdoors services nationally and began promoting the program in Western New York.

He continues as a volunteer with Christian Bowhunters while serving as vice president and fundraising coordinator with Chappy’s Outdoors. Like Catlin, Johnson believes the program does its best healing outdoors and, unlike most other outdoors programs for wounded service personnel, it maintains a lifelong relationship with those soldiers.

Johnson, along with gathering funds, continues to seek veterans in need of help and seeks skilled helpers as guides for outings.

“Simply said, the more we get in, the fewer we have to say ‘no’ to,” he said of local and national efforts.

Nationally, Chappy’s Outdoors has already accepted in 2016 more than 500 applications awaiting trips prior to the fishing and upcoming hunting seasons. To contact Johnson about entering, serving or donating to area programs, call him at 484-7046 or email: rjohnson@gmail.com.

Local chapters are forming in Western New York. A Clymer chapter has held deer and bear hunts on the Southern Tier. Joe Pionessa of Oakfield coordinates Genesee Archers for Christ and is developing a Chappy’s Outdoors chapter in Genesee County.

“We will be conducting another turkey hunt in Batavia May 11 to 15 and have guides for all veterans signed up, but we can add more if wounded soldiers in the area wish to participate,” Pionessa said.

Pionessa’s GAC group conducted a September waterfowl hunt and an October archery deer hunt in Batavia.

“We had some difficulty with the crossbow season,” he said. Hunters could not use the crossbow during the early season, which some injured servicemen who could not draw a vertical bow needed to hunt.

“We had one guy who wanted to go on the hunt even though he could not shoot a deer. He went for the pure enjoyment of being afield with his buddies,” he said.

To arrange outings or work with Pionessa, call (585) 356-7005.

Since 2010, Capt. Fred Forsythe has conducted a Fishing with Heroes outing program for wounded military personnel on Lake Erie. This year, it is set for July 15-17.

“We have room for a few more vets and can arrange other outings with Chappy’s Outdoors with advanced notice,” Forsythe said.

For more information about Forsythe’s program, call (814) 274-7465 or visit castawaycharters.net and click on “Heroes.”

To view the many Chappy’s Outdoors programs, visit chappysoutdoors.com.

email: odrswill@gmail.com