A Warriors Story – Veterans Find Healing Chasing Native Trout

From our good friend Cameron Cushman and the Iron Freedom Foundation comes their latest film project, “A Warrior’s Story“.

“A Warriors Story tells the story of Will Cannon, a U.S. Army Cavalry Scout Veteran who spent time in both Afghanistan and Iraq as a soldier and then again in the civilian sector as a contractor.

After his time in the service he was diagnosed with cancer and during his treatment, he found how powerful the outdoors are and what they can do for not only him but for all of those dealing with trauma. This is when he decided he needed to start a foundation that provides these important needs to other combat veterans.

When he formed The Iron Freedom Foundation, a Midland Texas-based non-profit, they were doing kayak fishing trips throughout the hill country on rivers such as the Devils and the Guadalupe. The organization has plans to branch into multiple outdoor activities such as fly fishing, backpacking, and hunting in the future, outside of the already successful kayak fishing trips.

On this trip, Cameron brought Will to the Rio Grande National Forest of Colorado in pursuit of native Rio Grande Cutthroat trout. They are joined by John Brandon, a Marine, and Marcos Mazzola a Venezuelan filmmaker.”

Flylords: Tell us more about the Iron Freedom Foundation.

Cam: The Iron Freedom Foundation was founded after our founder Will Cannon found that there was something missing from the other non-profits that he had volunteered for. While there were plenty of non-profits doing incredible work of getting combat veterans into the outdoors, what they lacked was that they didn’t give the veterans the means to go out and do those activities again on their own by supplying them with the gear and community to do so.

The Iron Freedom Foundation not only brings these groups of veterans on outdoor expeditions such as multiple day fly fishing and kayak trips, we completely outfit them with all of the gear. The veterans get to keep the backpacks, fly rods, tents, kayaks, and all of the gear needed to go out and do it again by themselves or with the community of veterans who have gone through our programs before.

You can learn more about IFF by visiting our website at ironfreedom.org

Flylords: How did this trip come together? Who all joined and how can other veterans join upcoming excursions?

Cam: This trip came about after months of discussions on beginning fly fishing trips for our veterans who needed more of an intimate connection to the outdoors. While out kayak fishing trips have been extremely successful, I personally knew from personal experience that trips that brought combat veterans into the mountains and smaller more intimate streams could provide tremendous support for those dealing with higher levels of PTSD. With that in mind, I suggested this trip which would hold multiple purposes of getting our founder into the environment, bringing along another combat veteran (John Brandon who is a Marine), and a great opportunity to make a short film that told Will’s story and why he formed The Iron Freedom Foundation. We also brought along my good buddy Marcos Mazzola as a photographer.

We’re currently updating our website to have a form that allows combat veterans or those who know combat veterans to submit themselves or another on their behalf that feels they could benefit from our mission. Many of our veterans come from referrals from past veterans on our trips which have been a huge part of our goal. We want to help as many veterans as we possibly can but as a younger nonprofit we still are growing each and every day.

Flylords: What impacts have you seen first hand on veterans venturing into the outdoors for therapy?

Cam: I can start off by saying that I have seen the impacts first hand through myself. Five years ago I was going through a really rough period and it was fly fishing and my family that got me through that time. Will, our founder, has attributed the outdoors and his wife and kids with getting him through each and every day on multiple occasions.

On each of the trips that I have gone on to film with IFF, I have seen veterans go from skeptical and almost void of emotion to smiling and laughing as they are falling off their kayaks, losing fish, and slipping down river banks. I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in contact with many of them, some now who have incorporated the outdoors into their everyday life because it had such a tremendous effect on them. One of these veterans, Curtis, is now driving across the country to spread the message of the outdoors and the healing powers that they have to other veterans and everyday people alike.

Flylords: Which location from the film stood out to you the most? What was the longest hike you all made to get back to the Rio Grande Cutthroats?

Cam: You know, that’s a really tough question as there were so many memorable moments on this trip. Marcos and I had previously been to that area on multiple occasions, but this was special as I was getting the opportunity to put two combat veterans who had never caught native trout before on multiple fish. I would have to say that one of the smaller unnamed tributaries to the Conejos river was our favorite. It was where we were able to get each of the guys their first Rio Grande Cutthroat and probably some of the prettiest as well.

We didn’t hike as much as we usually do on this trip because the fishing was so good everywhere we fished, however, our longest day was about nine miles or so round trip and that was to one of the lake systems and back.

Chasing Natives with Cameron Cushman

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  1. This is a real life 2020 version of the fishing and comraderie shared by Bill, Jake, and Harris in Hemingway’s “The Sun also Rises” 💗

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