Bass fishing helps a soldier heal

Elite Series pro Kelly Jordon of Texas introduced us at the Hyatt Regency bar in Greenville, S.C., during the 2015 Bassmaster Classic in a way only “KJ” could. “Alan McGuckin, this is my blown-up, one-eyed best friend, Brent Homan.”

It was awkward. I was at a loss for words, until Homan quickly followed with, “Yeah, just call me Cyclops,” and extended his hand to shake with a huge smile on his face. I switched my Miller Lite from my right hand to my left so I could shake Homan’s.

“I got a ton of respect for Kelly, and I know he respects the heck out of me, too,” Homan said to confirm there was no foul in the awkward introduction.

Aside from the fact that Jordon and I entered the universe a day apart in September 1970, both of us studied biology, love lyrics and make a living in a sport that’s the fiber of our souls, Jordon also loves to tell a story. And I knew, I just knew, that standing before me — a smiling face, with one eye gone — was one hell of a story.

So, of course, I asked, “What happened, brother?”

In Balad, Iraq

“I got blown up with an IED in Balad, Iraq, in 2007. My arm was busted up, my thumb was hanging by a piece of skin, I suffered brain damage and, obviously, I lost sight in one eye,” said the 35-year-old Homan, an Iowa native, who has called Texas home since the Army sent him to Fort Hood several years ago.

“My God, man, thank you so much for your service. How are you doing?” That’s all I could say. And he knew I didn’t mean how was he doing that day, that night at a hotel bar, but instead, with life.

It was my 19th Bassmaster Classic. It’s an event that has truly shaped my life, dating back to 1990. And my life, in perhaps its strangest place ever, was being shaped again, around a hotel bar, at bass fishing’s biggest event. I kept thinking of that Gandhi quote, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

I ordered another beer and offered to hold Homan’s drink so he could show friends that joined our conversation a thumb that looks kind of like Jordon and I attempted to repair it in a college anatomy class.

We talked for close to an hour, most of it filled with laughter, because laughter heals. Finally, I took the elevator up to my third-floor room, thinking, “Guck, he puts ’em all in your path for a reason. That one is exceptional. Reach out to him after the Classic, and tell his story.”

I was going to contact him as soon as I got back to Tulsa. He beat me to it. And that humbled me badly. He found me on Facebook and sent me this message:

“Sir it was great meeting you at the Classic, I hope you didn’t laugh too much at my expense, lol. Hope to see Ya again sometime soon!!! Take care, The One Eye Guy.”

The “sir” part bothered me. I don’t deserve that from a guy like him. I never served. He did. For 12 years and three months. For you, and for me. And he lost a lot in the process.

This past Sunday night, I was lonely. Self-pity was creepin’ in on a cold winter night. I thought of the Gandhi quote again. “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” So I grabbed a blank sheet of paper and a pencil, called Homan and asked for more of his story.

Homan's story

“I graduated high school, went on a fishing trip in Minnesota with my dad and then went straight to basic training,” Homan told me. “The day I got hit, June 10, 2007, was just like most days. We had already been hit. That was nearly a daily occurrence. I was a Bradley fighting vehicle commander, and we headed outside ‘the wire’ to relieve another platoon, when the improvised explosive device hit my Bradley. It was at night. We returned fire, and then called for a Medevac because I could tell by the way my gunner was looking at me that things were really bad. They talked to me about fishing to try to keep me from going into shock,” Homan told me.

A roommate, close friend and comrade, 11-Bravo Infantry member Henry Perez III, was there that night. “You’ve seen how deep blue Homan’s eyes are, right?” Perez asked me. “Well, to see those eyes go from blue to black was …”

Perez began to apologize for emotions that got in the way of his sentence’s ending.

“This is my first time to relive this. This is the first time I’ve talked about it since it happened. But as tough as it is to tell you about it, this is progress on my behalf,” Perez told me. I was in over my head. A writer turned trusted sounding board, complete with humility-rich emotion.

“Homan is an amazing person,” Perez continued. “He doesn’t have any quit in his blood. He is a person that will never turn his back on you. If you need help, if you need shelter, he will never shun you,” explained Perez, who served for 11 years.

“Homan is all about family, faith and fishing, so I just kept telling him the night he got hurt that he was headed home to get the help he needed, and that he was going to have the chance to live his dream and fish,” Perez said.

Perez is a good heart, a husband, a father of five and obviously a believer in dreams coming true, even as it was all crashing down around his close friend Homan that night.

Homan remembers well the first medical attention he received. “I had been at the Combat Army Support Hospital a week earlier with a soldier of mine that was sick when I heard another soldier, who appeared he’d lost his arm, use a satellite phone to call home with bad news. I thought to myself, ‘I hope I never have to make that phone call,’ and sure enough, a week later, there I was.”

On the other end of the line was his new bride, Kelly.

Married Sept. 29, 2006 — eight years now — they have two children.

“My parents have been married 58 years, Brent. Their anniversary is Sept. 29,” I told Homan.

“See, I told you we’re connected somehow,” he responded.

“Doctors at Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, told me they thought they could save my eye but not my thumb. I told them I needed my thumb to fish with.”

Five days later, back on American soil at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Homan lost his eye but kept the thumb. God must have known he was a bass angler, and that fishing would heal him.

Fishing to recover

“I’m doing a lot better since I started seeing a brain doctor — like 100 percent better. My brain is healing faster than ever,” he told me Sunday night. Profound statements like that would only allow me to take notes as Homan talked. A Paper Mate No. 2 pencil guided by my saturated corneas. I wasn’t capable of saying much.

“Fishing has been a huge part of my recovery. It’s my safe place. I know there’s nothing bad that can happen to me out there. It’s God’s territory. He made it, but it’s my safe place.”

As a competitor in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Opens presented by Allstate, Homan, who was at the Classic to assist consumers and fans at the Navionics sonar and GPS booth, was planning to leave soon for the first Central Open on Ross Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi. “I’m in my garage respooling some Quantum reels, getting ready right now,” said Homan, whose favorite way to catch a bass is by punching a Strike King Rodent through extremely thick aquatic vegetation.

“The Exo 300 reel has a huge spool. They are bad dudes and feel great in my hands. I have huge hands and big feet,” Homan told me.

But this conversation wasn’t about oversize baitcasting reels or 65-pound braided fishing line. Instead, it was about finding the common thread of goodness that connects us all. Things like respect, deep admiration, indebtedness and, ultimately, love for our fellow man.

“I take a multivitamin pack in the morning, and again at night, plus, on every third day, I take testosterone and HCG. My brain is still healing. That’s why you can tell that sometimes I still can’t find the words. That’s why you hear me pausing.”

No, Brent.

Honestly.

I couldn’t sense you struggling to find the words.

Besides, I sometimes struggle to verbalize what my soul’s trying to say, too. To the point I stutter amid long distance phone calls with Mom and Dad during my morning commute, as my heart, guts and soul all attempt to squeeze into singular thought via a cellular signal.

But, I never had an IED explode and smash my frontal lobe like you did, brother.

Speaking of words, I ended the long chat with a few short ones. “Give me some wisdom, brother. I mean, what do you try to tell people who hear your story?”

He didn’t struggle to find the words. “Don’t take anything for granted, and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something. They told me I would never drive. This Friday, I’ll drive 530 miles, alone, towing my boat to Ross Barnett. They told me I’d never be able to fish. I’m competing in the Bassmaster Central Opens. Just find joy in every day, man.”

I wished him well in his tournament, and politely, we hung up.

Fifteen minutes later, as I began to pound my laptop’s keys, in came a text from Homan.

“Great talking to you, sir. I would love to go fishing with you when the weather gets better — it would be an honor to have Ya in my boat.”

“Sir” and “honor” come naturally to Homan.

Again, it was me who was at a loss for words.

EDITOR'S NOTE: To learn about Carry The Load, an organization Homan works with closely, visit www.carrytheload.org. B.A.S.S. also works with Folds Of Honor; visit the website at www.foldsofhonor.org.

Also, tune in for a special Healing Heroes LIVE broadcast on Bassmaster.com on May 28 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. CT. The event will feature Elite pro Edwin Evers and a Wounded Warrior fishing against a team that bid for the right to compete with the proceeds going to the Wounded Warrior Project.

View photos of Brett here