Faces of CNM: Wes Dyer

A former Marine and IED detection dog handler, Wes is now a CNM business major who’s built a successful company that uses fly fishing to help veterans
July 06, 2020

Day after day during his 2009 deployment in Afghanistan, Marine Corps Sergeant Wes Dyer and his black lab Lottie would head out into the field to find and disarm improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Most of the time they were successful. But sometimes they weren’t.

Five separate times Wes was involved in an explosion. Twice—in August and October—he was critically injured (Lottie was ok). After suffering back and head injuries, he was sent home and began the difficult task of transitioning back to civilian life.

That transition is one that many veterans struggle with, which has resulted in far too many suicides. Wes says he struggled, too, after being diagnosed with both Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Photo of Wes, left, with Lottie.

Then, however, Wes returned to fly fishing—a sport he’d done for years before the war—and he says the sport helped save his life.

“Fly fishing helped me refocus and gave me an outlet to offload all my problems and my angst,” he says. “I was immediately happier and felt like I was once again living a purposeful life.”

Knowing the sport could help other veterans as well, Wes became a certified guide and decided to create a fly fishing non-profit. He named it AWOL Angler, and for the past three years he’s been working with vets from New Mexico, or flying in vets from other states free of charge, and taking them on exclusive, guided fly fishing trips throughout the state.

“We come out of the services with a lot of challenges and a lot on our minds, and fly fishing is great because it gives these vets the opportunity to be singularly minded about what’s happening right in front of them instead of worrying about everything else. There isn’t a lot of room in your mind for other things when you’re out fishing. You have to be present,” Wes says.

“My hope is that I can share the peace and tranquility this sport tends to bring, and perhaps send these veterans back to their hometowns, armed with a new healthy pastime to chase.”

Wes got the business off the ground himself, but knew he needed help to make it grow. And that’s where CNM comes in. He enrolled in the college’s business program two years ago and plans to graduate in 2021. Then he plans to transfer to a university to pursue a bachelor’s degree and eventually a master’s.

CNM, he says, taught him important fundamentals. Instead of trying to piece together a business plan on his own, Wes says he was able to learn what he needed to keep the business moving and better serve his clients.

"Instead of doing guess work, I’m getting real advice from real professionals at CNM,” Wes says. “When I go to learn something from someone, I want the best and I want a professional and that’s absolutely what I’m getting here at the college.”

So far Wes has worked with more than 20 veterans clients and he wants to keep growing. The plan is to eventually build a network of ranches around the country—not just here in New Mexico—where Wes and other AWOL guides can take veterans fishing. 

“I want to use what I have to help others, and with fishing, the sky's the limit,” he says.

Learn more about CNM's business programs.