Sunday, December 09, 2007

Bless these men

Saturday I had the rare privilege of spending a couple of hours on the water with eight wounded warriors at Blanco State Park. The soldiers -- all undergoing medical treatment and various therapies at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio -- were there as part of a "Heroes on the Water" outing.

Heroes on the Water is the first project undertaken by Kayak Anglers Society of America, founded by my friends Brad, Ken and Jim. This was their fourth trip.

Some of the guys told me about their "duty day" at BAMC: morning formation, then various appointments all day long, then back to a spare barracks room. One of the guys admitted that, a lot of times, it's easier to just stay locked-up in that room on a Saturday than attempting to get out and deal with the world.

Maj. Cody Roberson, a Medical Services Corps officer who founded, does a good job of protecting the troops from the raw curiosity of sponsors and spectators alike. Cody knows first-hand some of what they went through in Southwest Asia: he commanded a medical company there early in the war.

Two of the soldiers were amputees; some were injured in blasts, others were burn victims. Some had no immediately obvious injuries; following Cody's lead, I didn't ask.

There's no doubt in my mind, though, that every one of them is in some way broken by his experience; as Jon Dee Graham sings, "not beautifully broken, just broken ... that's all."

The Heroes on the Water program gives these troops an opportunity to get out, almost on their own, for a few hours. Sure, there are therapeutic aspects to kayak fishing -- fine motor skills, balance, strength; it's the sort of thing that is good for anyone to practice, but especially if you're, say, learning to use prosthetic thumbs. Or new legs.

But maybe the best thing about these excursions is the opportunity for the soldiers to simply relax -- away from case managers and appointments and the same ol' same ol' of their barracks rooms. To watch a wild turkey fly across the river, or feel the tug of a fish at the end of a line.

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for soldiers. As a kid, because I looked-up to them and admired them. As a young adult, because I was one. Now, because I remember.

I remember the difference it made to me when someone actually showed they appreciated my sacrifices.

I wonder at the kind of courage and strength it takes to even attempt to become truly whole again after the sorts of injuries -- and experiences -- these men have suffered.

Awe is not too strong a word for what I feel for these "warriors in transition," now that I have met a few of them.

Cabela's donated rods and reels for the outing, and the Blanco American Legion Post provided a late lunch. Blanco State Park staff opened their arms to the group and waived entry fees. Brad and Colleen Harvey of Heart of Texas Kayaks brought the boats. Such generosity is always humbling.

But a lot of it still comes out of KASA's -- Brad's, Cody's, Jim's and Ken's -- pockets. You can help sponsor the next Heroes on the Water trip (there's a waiting list 20 soldiers deep now) by donating online at Or, if you or someone you know would like to donate products or services -- fishing stuff, ice chests, transportation, PFDs, fishing garb or hats -- send Brad an email.

KASA is a non-profit corporation (501(c)(3) status is on the way), and donations are tax-deductible.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Tam and I just got back from the "anniversary" show at The Continental Club. The Continental Club is always standing room only, but it was even more so tonight. Big crowd.

Loud crowd, in the back; I assume they also paid $10 cover to get in and hear Jon Dee and the Fighting Cocks return to the stage after a 3-month hiatus, but they must have forgotten why they were there.


Seriously, it ticks me off. I'm all for drinking beer and BSing with my buds ... just not at the same time other people are trying to listen to music.

I've written elsewhere that Jon Dee Graham wields his guitar like it's a part of his body, another appendage. It's more than that. He is so utterly confident, so completely in control of the instrument, it's something else entirely. Something powerful. He owns that guitar, and the stage he stands on. And any audience he plays in front of.

Except for the guys in the back, who won't shut up.

Andrew Duplantis is always a pleasure to watch and listen to. Sometimes, like when he's on tour with Son Volt, he's not on stage with Graham. Then we have the pleasure of watching and listening to Harmoni Kelley, star of Naked 2007.

It's always an amazing show. It's real rock and roll, the kind where the guys (and gal) on stage are having as much fun playing as the audience is listening and dancing. It's also thought-provoking, heart-warming ... and a lot of other hyphenated adjectives.

Graham has talked publicly about his longtime struggle with depression. Some of his songs are about that; about the human condition, really.

Mark Finkelpearl, the director and producer of the forthcoming DVD about JDG's life, personally gave me permission to use that YouTube video, below, by the way. Of course, that's why he uploaded it. He'd like lots and lots of folks to post it to their blogs.

If you haven't already, give Jon Dee Graham a listen. You won't regret it.