On April 18, Joint Base Elmendorf and Ft. Richardson (JBER) honored Damond Blankenship with two awards for his service with Project Healing Waters Anchorage during 2016. He received the Volunteer Excellence Award as well as the “Presidential Volunteer Silver Award” for volunteering more than 250 hours during the year. Damond has served as the Co-leader of the Anchorage PHWFF Program since 2011, a role that requires weekly and sometimes daily interaction with volunteers and participants.
Healing doesn’t simply occur through just going fishing. Having knowledge and personal pride of accomplishment can make a simple trip to fish into a positive healing process. Damond shares much of himself and his knowledge with PHWFF participants in support of this model. You can buy a fishing rod, but understanding the tool– the rod, the line, the fly– can make an enormous difference. Damond leads the annual Anchorage Program training sessions where participants build their own fly rods, a process that requires attention to detail and focus for success. He assists participants in the selection of the materials, shares freely of his knowledge and is a skilled and kind reviewer of progress. In the end, all participants succeed due to his combination of leadership and support. As a professional fishing guide for Alaska Fishing and Lodging on the Kenai River in the short Alaska season, he could easily be excused from PHWFF activities in the summer. However, Damond willingly takes what free time he has to share boating skills, practical fishing skills with participants, and he frequently takes participants out on his own boat after guiding all day. Please keep in mind that the fishing day starts at 3 AM and many times doesn’t end until after 9 PM. In this manner he helps take participants full cycle from class to the water and back to a lifetime of a rewarding rehabilitating hobby.
Emotional rehabilitation can often be a challenging process for participants. Damond brings unique skills to the Anchorage Program by weaving his training in social science with his passion for fly fishing and an easy, but no nonsense manner, to model positive behaviors in participants and supportive corrections when needed. He speaks openly and honestly in a manner that allows even difficult discussions to be heard and absorbed. Because he shares so freely in the classroom and on the water he is one who participants admire and from whom they can accept the sometimes-hard truths that they need to hear to move forward in rehabilitation. Damond is truly the “heart and soul” of healing in the program.