On 31 August 2010, Ryan Berk had been at COP Zerok for less than a week. Zerok, a tiny outpost in the mountainous Paktika Province of eastern Afghanistan, was to be his home for the next 12 months. On that August morning, he was guarding the outpost in one of the more exposed towers — all of which had been under increasingly heavy fire in recent weeks.
Just two hours into his eight hour shift, Ryan heard an ominous “boom” in the distance, almost immediately followed by the distinct whistle of an incoming rocket. There was no time to react. The explosion threw Ryan to the ground and peppered the tower with shrapnel. When the smoke and dust settled, Ryan realized that he had been wounded. Dazed and bleeding from his head, he managed to return fire on the Taliban rocket team until air support arrived, ending the attack.
Due to the events that day, Ryan received a Purple Heart. Ryan was treated for his injuries and returned to his platoon less than 2 weeks later. Throughout the remainder of his deployment, the company endured months of tough enemy contact, harsh weather, rugged terrain, and friendly casualties.
No amount of preparation can prepare an individual for these scenarios or the lifelong effects of war. When Ryan finished his army career in 2012, it didn’t take long before he was faced with some of the common challenges that veterans often talk about when transitioning out of the military. Tragically, too many of his brothers in arms succumb to these demons.
It wasn’t until Ryan reverted to his love of the sea that he began to find his own peace and normalcy again. He found that the pleasures of fishing seemed to be his key to happiness — the challenge of targeting a species he couldn’t see; the excitement when he got a bite; the anticipation of seeing what’s on the other end of the line; the sense of accomplishment when he pulled his catch onto the boat; the sounds and smells of the ocean — Fishing helped Ryan cope and get his life on a positive track. He met his wife, started a family, and landed a job as a municipal police officer, while always finding time to fish on his off days. It was at that time that he decided he wanted to help other veterans find this same happiness.
Ryan had a vision of using his knowledge and love of the water to help other veterans the same way fishing helped him. He began the long process of obtaining his USCG merchant mariner credentials, and a year later he launched Salty Grunt Sportfishing and Salty Grunt Sportsfishing’s Warrior on the Water. In addition to running regular fishing charters with discounts for veterans and first responders, Warrior on the Water was established as a 501c3 non-profit organization. Aimed to focus on veterans, gold star families, and families of fallen police officers, Salty Grunt Sportfishing’s Warrior on the Water will be taking guests and their families out for a day on the water, lodging them in the coastal town of Wildwood, NJ, and providing them with the essential equipment needed to continue their fishing ventures.
Ryan’s hope is that the Warrior on the Water experience may open a new window of opportunity for fellow veterans, putting them at ease and hopefully lowering the concerning veteran suicide rate. As a combat wounded veteran and first responder himself, Ryan plans to give each guest his undivided attention. His goal is to create a fun and relaxed atmosphere with like minded people, where the only thing the guest should be concerned about is making memories on the water.
If you are interested in learning more about Salty Grunt Sportfishing or helping out with their Warrior on the Water excursions, you can go to their website at Saltygrunt.com. You can also obtain more information and follow events on Facebook at Salty Grunt Sportfishing, Instagram at Salty_Grunt_sf or YouTube at Salty Grunt Sportfishing.