News: Marine shares love of fishing with wounded brothers
Story by Cpl. Paul Peterson
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - They called his name, and the rest was just a blur.
Cpl. Joshua T. Shakeshaft, a combat engineer and head instructor for improvised explosive device awareness at the Battle Skills Training School here, walked to the head of the council chambers at City Hall in Jacksonville, N.C., to accept the 2012 Veteran of the Year award Nov. 20.
Jacksonville is proud of its unique bond with local veterans, said Mayor Sammy Phillips, who personally handed the award to Shakeshaft. Every year since 1988, the city takes a moment to recognize veterans from each of the city’s veteran organizations for demonstrating outstanding volunteerism, support and leadership.
More than 100 people filled the council chambers as Phillips thanked each of the 30 recipients for their continued service to the local community and the nation.
“I was perfectly happy with a pat on the back,” said Shakeshaft, who accepted the award as the nominee for Heroes on the Water, an organization that provides wounded and disabled veterans with an outlet for stress though kayak fishing. “The last thing I ever expected was to get an award from the mayor.”
Shakeshaft, a Castle Rock, Colo., native and veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, first became active with the organization after returning to the states to be with his mother, who was dying of cancer.
He instantly found an outlet for his own combat stress and personal loss through an activity he loved from his time back home: fishing.
“He was hooked the very first time he went out with us, and he has gone out ever since,” said Patrick Curley, one of Shakeshaft’s personal mentors and the Chrystal Coast Chapter coordinator for Heroes on the Water. “He has found something he enjoys doing, and now he is sharing it with other people.”
Shakeshaft saw his participation as a personal means of healing and a way to help his fellow veterans struggling with visible and unseen wounds. It increasingly consumed his free time.
“No one here knew I was taking veterans out fishing every weekend,” said Shakeshaft. “I don’t expect recognition for it. I’m doing it for me. I’m doing it for my gratification – helping people helps me. I got that from my mom.”
He continued to share his expertise with IEDs as an instructor at BSTS during his working hours, but his weekends belonged to the waterways of North Carolina.
“It has changed my life,” Shakeshaft said. “It is like the brotherhood you see when you are in combat … [Whether] it is a double amputee or someone who has post traumatic stress disorder, everybody can relate with each other.”
Shakeshaft said his wife, Traci, is his biggest supporter. Fishing and volunteering cut into the couple’s small amount of free time, but she understands its importance and even tells him to go out.
He takes particular joy in seeing what he calls a “hero’s moment,” when a wounded warrior finds a few minutes of peaceful sleep in a kayak while his feet dangle in the water.
His contributions to the community quickly grew after his first volunteering experience with the group. Shakeshaft regularly brought new participants to events and became increasingly involved in other volunteer opportunities.
Whether it is mentoring local youth, participating in veteran meetings and parades or simply providing an open ear to a fellow servicemember, he said the gratification of doing something good helps him heal.
Shakeshaft even started planning additional outreach programs. He hopes someday to return to Colorado, where he can help veteran communities find some of the peace he experiences nearly every weekend in North Carolina.