Sunday, April 21, 2024

Honoring Our Warriors – By Bruce Callis


1656109_10203502230330305_3630066564874329856_nOn August 2, 2014 I was given the opportunity to serve our wounded warriors as a volunteer at the Reel American Heroes Foundation 4th annual fishing tournament at Hope Springs Marina in Stafford County, Virginia. To serve those who served us and our country, an honor I do not take lightly. To each and every one of them, thank you. This was a day that they could escape the everyday routine and relax while enjoying a day out fishing. A more normal event in their life that is full of hospitals, doctors, and horrors of events that we see on the news.
The morning started early, with volunteers arriving at 4:30 am, met by the Reel American Heroes Foundation staff of volunteers. The first order of business was to sign in and be assigned a job. The most daunting of which was the boat launching and parking. It wasn’t long after getting the flashlight and vest that boaters started to arrive. If you have never seen a steady line of 70 plus bass boats attempting to launch and the parking of the trailers, it can be a real madhouse. But each year, more is learned and it runs so much smoother. We were very lucky to have the experience of those that came before us. With very little problems, and the hand bumping of trailers to fit in the spots better, all was done as light filled the sky.10386837_10203516238880510_6100582384280274698_n
As boats were docked, the boaters came up the hill to the registration tent to check in. Each was given a lanyard with their name and a number. The veterans arrived and were given a lanyard with a number that corresponded to a boater. They were also given a new Lews spinning rod and reel and a tackle box with baits that they got to keep for their own. The air was full of excitement, with boaters and vets discussing the day ahead. There was of course a lot of laughter too. This year, a few big names in the BASS Elite Series were there to show their support of the warriors and the hosts of one television show. Timmy Horton, Paul Elias, John Crews, Shaw Grigsby, Michael Simonton, and Hook n’ Look hosts Kim and Danny Stricker where there, not off away from the crowd, but smiling and taking pictures with the vets and talking to them about everything. Also there were Lews’ Gary Remensnydor and Mike Eutsler.
10524633_10203502453615887_128708667305935447_nThe morning opened with Ron DeFreitas, founder and Executive Director of Reel American Heroes, welcoming everyone. Ashante Johnson moved everyone with her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, which brought cheers from everyone there. A few more announcements, a quick review of the rules and it was time to launch. A few of the vets who had signed up to go could not go that day due to health issues, so the crowd was asked for any vets or active duty military personnel who would like to fish. No boater would be left out, as I got the privilege to go out with Rick Chenoweth to fish and talk with the anglers on the water. I can’t said enough about how thankful I am to Ron and Rick for this special privilege, as I got to hear the interaction first hand and see what you could not see from shore.
The first stop was with Paul Elias and his co angler, who had stopped to fish the railroad bridge just outside the marina. Paul had gotten some good bites during his practice time and wanted to get his co-angler “onto the fish early.” Paul was unable to attend the event last year due to scheduling conflicts, but he donated a jersey and a day of fishing, and brought a vet down to Mississippi to fish. Paul stated that “they sacrifice their lives for us, it’s the least I can do to come help in some way.”
We moved on out further in the creek, stopping to talk with other boats, with Rick fishing between boats. Not the best way to fill out a limit, but Rick did so, upgrading fish from time to time. And it was that way all day. As we got closer to the others, I could hear just how much talk was happening, how the interaction between the two anglers evolved and see with my own eyes how much it affected both of them. Now, I will have to say that Rick had them figured out pretty good, and most of us wouldn’t do what he did, but what he was using and where they were, he shared with the other boats. He finally said he shouldn’t be sharing the tips and said he wasn’t gonna tell anyone else. He was a man of his word, he didn’t open his mouth to tell the next boat, he just picked up his rod and showed them the bait, and we laughed at his keeping mum. Rick, thank you, for you could have kept the information to yourself, but this wasn’t about us, it was about the warriors.
Our last stop was out in the mouth of the creek in the Potomac River where a lot of the anglers had made their stop. There we met up with John Crews. While this was John’s first year at the event, he had fished the earlier event this year held down in North Carolina. John stated that “they gave so much for us, this is the least I can do to honor them.” As we made our way back in to the marina through the no wake zone, I could still hear the talk aboard the other boats. I can only say that the smiles on the faces were broad and the laughter delightful.
Once back at the marina, everyone was bringing their bag of fish to the official weigh in station. I didn’t get to see all the catches personally, but I did get to see some very nice bass. I even got to see one warrior’s dinner, a big almost 10 pound catfish. Saw a nice 5.55 pound bass weighed in by a female warrior too. There was nothing but smiles by all. As the fish were weighed in and photos taken, volunteers awaited to take them back to the water to be released. A lot of these volunteers were the youth that had come out to honor the warriors.
Then it was on to lunch provided by Billiken’s BBQ Company. The food was awesome, but it was the talk about the day on the water that filled the air. Families mingled together, more pictures were taken, and a lot of laughter filled the eating area, spilling out into the parking lot. This was a scene that carried out over and over until the announcement of the awards ceremony and then up unto the first announcement of the awards, it was a heart moving time among everyone. A special presentation was made to each of the Elite anglers and to Lews for their involvement as a sponsor of the event. Then the awards were made for the top anglers among the boaters and the warriors, with each earning a trophy and a prize. Prizes included large screen televisions, a guitar, and fishing equipment including a Lews rod and reel.
For those that have never done anything like this, it is a day worthy of giving up. Shawn Grigsby summed up the day perfectly. The Reel American Heroes Foundation is “an awesome, awesome organization.” “You can’t do enough for these guys that put their life on the line for us; they are the backbone of America. That’s what makes America what it is, is protecting our freedoms. Each one of these guys put their life on the line every day and we appreciate it and can’t give enough back to them.” I will be back next year to volunteer again in whatever way they need me. I hope that I have done enough to honor our wounded warriors and to motivate you to want to be a part of honoring them in this small way.



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