Rancho Santa Fe resident throws veterans a line with Take a Warrior Fishing program

To let American military veterans know that someone has their six to help them transition back to civilian life, Rancho Santa Fe resident Patrick Rost doesn’t do soirees, galas or events. He just raises the money, charters a boat and takes them fishing.

His fifth annual Take a Warrior Fishing deep-sea fishing trip will set out on June 25 with 60 wounded veterans and their families on board from the Warrior Foundation-Freedom Station in San Diego.

For Rost, it just took thinking a little bit differently about how he could help these veterans and said it’s not a big sacrifice for him to spend some hours on the ocean with them.

“What’s happened to them is heartbreaking,” he said, referring to the “agony and hell” they go through and the emotional pain of facing life with a new set of challenges.

He said a big part of what he’s doing is just giving them the feeling that people care, recognizing that society may not embrace and thank them the way that they could.

“What would our lives be like without their individual sacrifice, without them signing up voluntarily?” Rost said.

Sandy Lehmkuhler, president of Warrior Foundation-Freedom Station, is grateful for Rost’s yearly efforts.

“Mr. Rost does more than take them fishing, he gives them a chance to just be 22-year-old men for a day, without having to think about their injuries or military responsibilities,” Lehmkuhler said. “In short, he gives them a day to just be guys and gals having a great day out on the ocean on a great boat.

“Mr. Rost is very patriotic and passionate about our warriors; he lets them look at what they can do and not at what they cannot. He reminds them that they are our country’s finest and that they are still in the fight and still our warriors.”

Rost is a lawyer who founded International Capital Advisors Group, a consultant for finance, business development and regulatory affairs. He came to California from South Dakota in 1980 to attend the University of San Diego on a tennis scholarship.

“Growing up, I fished all the time in South Dakota. In the summer that’s what we’d do, just grab a pole and some worms,” Rost recalled. “My dad would always take us.”

Rost loved all things aquatic, and when he moved to San Diego he started fishing off the pier in Ocean Beach, graduating to half-day tuna fishing trips. Eventually he became scuba-certified.

One of Rost’s clients was retired Marine Corps Col. Jeffrey Powers, and together they founded Homeland Security Technology Inc.

The company worked with a movie studio in Kearny Mesa, training new Marine recruits on urban warfare in a mock-Iraqi village, everything authentic except for the plastic bullets.

Rost would watch from the catwalk above.

“The experience gave me a different level of insight into the inner workings of how Marines trained,” he said. “These were 19-year-old kids, with just a gun and a knife, that’s it …being trained to fight to the death.”

The company evolved into making gear for Marines and negotiating government contracts as well as security service work. As a result, he dealt with a lot of former Marines as well as young veterans.

“I had a lot of experience meeting and talking to these guys and then watching the war unfold on TV,” Rost said. “After watching them just getting their feet wet, baptism by fire — the first time they laced up their boots as Marines and then hearing reports about them coming back with injuries — that brought the whole thing full circle.”

The experience inspired Rost to give back in some way, and he discovered The Warriors Foundation, founded in 2004, and their then-fledgling 12-unit transitional housing facility called the Freedom Station.

Through supporting the organization through various events, he noticed that the men were often holed up in the hospital at Balboa or recuperating at the Freedom Station with not a lot to do.

“I thought, ‘What would be fun to do that’s relatively easy to put together? Why not take them out on a fishing boat?’” Rost said.

He called up Fisherman’s Landing and chartered a boat, paying for the trip himself and through donations from friends, handling rods, tackle, food and deck hands.

He welcomed aboard any severity of injury — from Marines who blew out their ACLs during training to a triple amputee injured in combat.

The first fishing trip was held in 2010, and it has been held every year since. The time spent on the ocean is space for the veterans to get out of their own heads for a little bit and just fish.

“There’s not a lot of conversation; it isn’t a therapy session. It’s just showing them how to put a sardine on a hook and cast it out,” Rost said. “We treat them no differently than anybody else. You don’t need two legs to fish.

“The trip gives them the freedom to relax and laugh and do something completely out of their normal everyday,” he said. “They’ve gone through such incredibly intense experiences of being in combat, and you can only imagine what a day-to-day life is like in the Marines.”

There are 11 men at Freedom Station and about 125 at the barracks at the Naval Medical Center San Diego.

One of Warrior Foundation’s success stories is Christopher Lawrence, who was injured in Iraq in 2007 and spent almost three years recovering at the medical center.

“Warrior Foundation’s outings such as deep sea fishing, golfing, shooting, hot air ballooning and bass fishing tournaments kept me from getting stuck in my barracks room and helped me to connect with people again,” he said. “One year, they sent me home for my first Christmas in five years; being around my family for the holidays was better for my recovery than any medicine.

“While trying to stay in the Marine Corps, Warrior Foundation Freedom Station modified a pair of boots for me to fit my prosthetic in, allowing me to wear my uniform again properly,” he continued. “I am thankful for the Warrior Foundation Freedom Station and how much it helped me to recover.”

Lehmkuhler said one of the Warrior Foundation’s biggest needs is to ensure that more veterans can experience what Lawrence did — funding to help send them home for the holidays to be with their families.

Other needs include pallets of water. As the veterans are going through therapy and taking different kinds of medications, they always need bottled water.

To become a Warrior Partner, and help out with a monthly or one-time donation, visit warriorfoundation.org.

“Any amount helps the quality of life for our warriors,” Lehmkuhler said.

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