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Healing Found with a Reel, a Rod and a River

Friday, September 9, 2016

In the journey to find that perfect, peaceful place, the destination is often discovered with the help of a guide.

Keith Tanner, a member of UTC-4-Vets and project lead, High Pressure Compressors, Pratt & Whitney, is often first in line to offer his services to help those find a bit of solace. The serenity he absorbs on crisp, clear waters, hunting for hungry trout, is an experience he wishes to share. It's the reason why the Pratt & Whitney group UTC-4-Vets, of which Tanner is a member, has joined with a nonprofit program called Project Healing Waters.

The mission is to support veterans by providing camaraderie, escapism and relaxation. Veterans helping veterans. Earlier this summer, Tanner, along with other members of Project Healing Waters, waded into the Farmington River to teach veterans the beauty of fly fishing.

"You hear the water, the riffles in your ears, you see the beautiful trees, and you come into the water with all this baggage, and then when you start learning about fly fishing, it puts you in a completely different place," Tanner said, standing on the river shore in Riverton, Connecticut.

On this day, Tanner, a Marine veteran, partnered with fellow Marine Andrew Corvello.

"I had never done it before; the last time I did any kind of fishing I was a kid. I couldn't say no," Corvello said, kneeling on the shore of the river.

Project Healing Waters started in 2005, providing basic fly fishing, fly casting and fly tying classes to veterans. All the equipment is provided to students and all fishing trips are free of charge.

A few weeks after Corvello's first fly fishing adventure, volunteers for Project Healing Waters met him and other veterans again at a Newington, Connecticut, Veterans of Foreign War hall for a fly tying instruction. One of the things the group prides itself on are the bonds it helps form among its members.

UTC-4-Vets founder Dan Ward participated in this particular event. Although held in a large hall, the calm felt on the waters also flows here.

"This program is, at a very minimum, once a month. It's not a one-and-done 'hey, see you next year' thing," Ward said.

It's clear the time invested in the program is having an impact. Corvello, who slipped on waders for the first time just a few weeks earlier, was eager to continue his education.

"So you look at the bugs, the various bugs found on the rivers," Corvello said, carefully wrapping a thin thread around a small hook, creating a fly. "You mimic what they look like as best as possible."

A river cannot be still. It is powerful, relentless, but also inviting. Because within the chaos of a river separating a valley there is serenity to be celebrated. One taste is what brings people like Andrew Corvello back, the restorative influence of the water. And the fish, which he finds himself catching more and more.

"I don't know what it is about it," Corvello said, taking a reflective moment. You can see on his face that he is back on the river, a line dancing in the wind before is calmly rests on the top of the water. "It's just, in some areas, there are no signs of cars, no other people, just you and nature."

All it took to find that place was a guide.

"We create a bond for life," Tanner said. "You can't measure it. It's all about how it makes your heart feel as you are doing it."

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