Aaron Showalter with the Wounded Warrior Project reels in a salmon as Rob Swanson gets ready to net it out of the water in this 2011 file photo.(Wes HannaS/Kodiak Daily Mirror)

It started as a simple idea from a former Kodiak resident.

Now, 10 years later, that idea has turned into a bigger annual event supported by at least 35 local businesses and organizations, more than a dozen individuals and 16 Kodiak skippers.

About a dozen wounded veterans began arriving in Kodiak Thursday for a nine-day excursion that includes fishing, bear watching and hiking, through Saturday, Aug. 8.

The local excursions started when Vietnam War veteran Peter Malley decided he wanted to support the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that assists those injured in military service after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Malley, now a resident of north Texas, saw a Wounded Warrior Project news spot in 2005 and was inspired to get involved. The 65-year-old Malley served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1968 to 1970 and he wanted to join the project to touch lives, said his wife, Beverly.

“It’s just good to be able to inspire them and you can say you guys can do this,” Beverly said.

She said some of the regular project participants were soldiers with brain injuries or amputees.

“Some of them are still in the healing process and they are hesitant to deal with other people,” she said, “but by the end of the week, they are willing to do anything.”

Veterans face a loss of identity and a sense of isolation when they leave the military after years of service, Beverly said. Fishing events and outings provide a sense of camaraderie and a comfort to the wounded veterans, she said.

Malley, in a news release distributed by PRNewswire, said he wanted to be involved with the project to show support to U.S. soldiers.

“Since I had a boat, I thought fishing would be a great way to thank our returning wounded, but would also be a way to challenge some of those severely wounded,” he said.

Malley’s initial contact with the Wounded Warrior Project was met with enthusiasm, and a Kodiak fishing and sightseeing trip was soon in the works.

But what began as a small excursion in 2006 quickly expanded.

A film crew, freelance photographer and other staff joined the trip roster and Malley needed to enlist more help.

Help came in the early years by way of Kodiakans George and Melody Kontra, Fritz Miller, Charlie Jerling, Rod and Janet Krug and Clayton Skonberg.

This year, at least 16 skippers and 12 other residents are actively supporting the project.

The trip is offered free of charge to injured service members through Wounded Warrior Project’s alumni program, one of 20 programs provided for injured veterans.

Malley and other volunteers host and feed wounded veterans during the nine-day excursion. They also guide participants on ocean and river fishing trips, ATV rides and sightseeing.

“I believe that the challenges of fishing on the ocean, along with the friendships and bonds made by each wounded warrior while experiencing something new and different gives the warriors added confidence to face everyday challenges when they return home,” Malley said.

All fishing gear, bait and tackle are provided during the trip. Wounded Warrior Project purchases fishing licenses for every warrior in attendance, and their catch will be processed and shipped gratis.

The Malleys, in a statement, thanked their Kodiak friends and supporters for bringing 13 severely wounded soldiers from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts to Kodiak for this summer’s fishing and sightseeing trip.

“You have shown genuine appreciation for the sacrifices they have made by giving them what they needed most — encouragement and wonderful memories of a trip to Alaska to take back home,” they said.

Roni Toldanes is managing editor of the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact him at (907) 486-3227, ext. 622.

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