Sport­fish­ing

An in­no­va­tive or­ga­ni­za­tion leaves a trail of help­ing and healing in its wake.

Power & Motor Yacht - - IN THIS ISSUE - By John Brown­lee

Sheep Dog grew out of a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter. But it also had a se­condary ef­fect: Giv­ing vet­er­ans a sec­ond call­ing.

This past sum­mer, I got the chance to spend some time on the wa­ter with a group of vet­er­ans from an or­ga­ni­za­tion called Sheep Dog Im­pact As­sis­tance (SDIA) who came fish­ing with me as a guest on our An­glers Jour­nal TV se­ries. They joined us in Old Say­brook, Con­necti­cut, as we shot an episode chas­ing striped bass in Long Is­land Sound near the mouth of the Con­necti­cut River.

One main fo­cus of the group is to host out­door ad­ven­tures for other dis­abled vets and first re­spon­ders. These ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude sky­div­ing, hunt­ing and fish­ing, ca­noe­ing or raft­ing, ob­sta­cle races and even Spar­tan races, a high-in­ten­sity ver­sion of an ob­sta­cle race that of­fers ex­treme phys­i­cal chal­lenges to par­tic­i­pants.

SDIA grew out of a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter. As Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina struck the Gulf Coast with Category 5 winds in late Au­gust 2005, mil­lions of Amer­i­cans sat glued to their tele­vi­sions watch­ing the re­sult­ing catas­tro­phe in dis­be­lief. Many of us won­dered what we could do to help, but felt pow­er­less to pro­vide as­sis­tance in any mean­ing­ful way.

One such Amer­i­can was a young Marine Corps sergeant named Lance Nutt, who was at his home in Arkansas on leave from a tour of duty in Iraq as the mon­ster storm hit. “I had just come home from a tough de­ploy­ment in ’03 and ’04,” Nutt says, “and I just re­mem­ber sit­ting and yelling at the TV, won­der­ing why no one seemed to be do­ing any­thing to help.”

Nutt sud­denly re­al­ized that he was sit­ting there com­plain­ing about the sit­u­a­tion, but not ac­tu­ally do­ing any­thing about it, so he made a de­ci­sion. “I got up, and I did it.” He en­listed the help of his fa­ther, a former mil­i­tary of­fi­cer, and a close friend, a cop and former Marine. The three of them loaded sup­plies into a truck and headed for Pass Chris­tian, Mississippi.

They dropped off sup­plies at the lo­cal fire sta­tion, one of the few build­ings left stand­ing in Pass Chris­tian after the mas­sive tidal surge sub­sided. Then they got to work dis­tribut­ing the re­main­ing sup­plies di­rectly to peo­ple in need. They helped el­derly peo­ple, hand­i­capped folks and even chil­dren who had no other as­sis­tance to rely on.

This seem­ingly small ef­fort spawned a pro­found con­cept in Nutt’s mind. He be­gan to vi­su­al­ize an or­ga­ni­za­tion that would pro­vide help to those in need dur­ing times of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters (im­pact as­sis­tance), and also sup­port the peo­ple who pro­tect all of us on a daily ba­sis, from mil­i­tary per­son­nel to first re­spon­ders like po­lice­men and fire­fight­ers, among oth­ers.

“We’re here to as­sist the men and women who are will­ing to lay down their lives for the rest of us. This is a spe­cial breed of in­di­vid­ual, like fire­fight­ers who are will­ing to run into a burn­ing build­ing. We at­tempt to ex­plain to peo­ple what de­fines these ‘sheep dogs,’ and help get them to ap­pre­ci­ate [these pro­fes­sion­als] for what they are and what they do for us.”

The SDIA team now has three key mis­sions: dis­as­ter re­sponse, out­door ad­ven­tures and hol­i­day as­sis­tance. Dis­as­ter as­sis­tance needs lit­tle ex­pla­na­tion but has ex­panded dra­mat­i­cally in scope since that first trip to post-Ka­t­rina Mississippi. SDIA now reg­u­larly as­sists in nat­u­ral dis­as­ters—cov­er­ing dam­aged roofs, for in­stance, clear­ing downed trees and dis­tribut­ing much-needed food and wa­ter. “One of our fa­vorite slo­gans is, ‘Get off the couch,’” Nutt says. “We use that as a hash­tag, and it ba­si­cally is our way of en­cour­ag­ing sheep dogs who may need help to come with us, get out of the house and ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing new.” Nutt says that while they have got­ten busy help­ing oth­ers, he has come to learn an im­por­tant life les­son: “Help­ing is healing,” he says.

For many of the Sheep Dogs, sit­ting around to­gether wait­ing for fish to bite is a rare op­por­tu­nity to breathe eas­ily, talk about the chal­lenges of re­turn­ing to civil­ian life and em­brace healthy com­pe­ti­tion. It’s a form of ther­apy.

The Sheep Dogs take a well-de­served break from or­ga­niz­ing out­door ad­ven­tures for vet­er­ans.

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