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Wounded heroes to target Lake Erie walleye

Melissa Topey • Mar 17, 2014 at 2:20 PM

Like any parent, TJ Fraley would probably tell you that being a stay-at-home dad to his 3-year-old son, Charles Roger, is a rewarding job, but not always an easy one.

But it’s definitely less dangerous than what he was doing a few years ago. In 2009, Fraley was a gunner on his second tour in Afghanistan with the National Guard in Kentucky. His first was the previous year.

Fraley and his unit were tasked with escorting convoys and clearing the path they were driving of roadside bombs known as Improvised Explosive Devices.

“We would go out front of convoys, find the IEDs and get rid of them” Fraley said.

The work took its toll on Fraley, who was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress syndrome. The physical position he was in as a gunner led to back problems, as well as causing the cartilage in his knees to disintegrate.

If anyone deserves a few days of relaxation, it’s Fraley and his fellow veterans. That’s the idea behind the Kentucky Wounded Hero Project, an organization that provides opportunities for members of the military, law enforcement, firefighters or emergency medical responders in Kentucky who were hurt in the line of duty to “hunt, fish, travel and reconnect to nature’s healing properties” according to its website.

Fraley made his first visit to Lake Erie last year as part of the Kentucky Wounded Hero Project’s three-day walleye fishing event.

“It was definitely a great experience,” Fraley said. “I had never been walleye fishing or on Lake Erie. All the charter captains were great”

Even when not catching walleye, being on the water was peaceful to him. It was good for him to be with a group of people who were patriotic and supportive, he said.

“Veterans don’t always get the support we need,” Fraley said. “It was very touching to me”

He plans to come back when the Kentucky Wounded Hero Project returns to Lake Erie June 26-28.

The organization is now in its third year of bringing those injured in line-of-duty service to Lake Erie to fish, relax and spend time outside of their daily routine. They started with 15 soldiers, and this year 66 participants are already scheduled.

“We strive to get them out of the hospitals or out of their routines for something therapeutic and relaxing,” said Joe Hein, event coordinator for the Kentucky Wounded Hero Project. “These people are amazing. We become family”

There are already 29 charter captains from the area who have volunteered their time, gas and boats to take the participants out.

In addition to fishing, the group tours Put-in-Bay, and they’ll attend a wrap party at Tall Timbers Campground, where there will be a fish fry and raffles.

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