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Team Pope spends day fishing with anglers

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mindy Bloem
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
"A bad day fishing is still better than a good day at work," is a popular saying quoted multiple times by fishermen attending the fourth annual Warriors on the Water event April 17 on Jordan Lake at New Hope Overlook Ramp near Raleigh, N.C. 

Hal Abshire, Greg Lahr and Bob Cunningham, the founders of the annual Military Appreciation Bass Fishing Tournament, played host to more than 150 Airmen, Soldiers and Marines who were given food, supplies and a seat on a boat with an experienced fisherman all at no cost to themselves. The idea was formed when these three men, each of whom served in Desert Storm, wanted to find a way to thank military members for their service. 

Preparations for the day of fishing began April 15 when the participating servicemembers were invited to an "Icebreaker" social held at Sports USA on Fort Bragg. During the social, participants were teamed up with an expert who would act as the angler for the day while the servicemember acted as co-angler. Military members were then given a bag to fill up with supplies at the various stations around the room. The items in the bags included sunglasses, fishing bait, coupons and gift cards for sporting goods, hats and T-shirts, just to name a few. The generous amount of supplies and monetary gifts were donated by sponsors, some from as far away as California. During the icebreaker, the servicemembers were also given free food and beverages and were awarded various door prizes throughout the evening. 

"We couldn't do it without our sponsors," Mr. Abshire said. "When we first put it together we had no money. It was like the Kevin Costner movie that says, 'if you build it, they will come.' That was what we did and sure enough, people helped out. Last year we had 136 sponsors and this year we had 210. The sponsors make it happen, not just in the local area but throughout the United States. They want to give back to the men and women in our military. The volunteers were amazing too. It was really fantastic to get everyone's help to put this together. We definitely could not do it without them." 

The day of the fishing tournament began at 3 a.m., as military members boarded a bus to the lake. Upon arrival, each member took a seat on the boat of his angler for the day. The fishing expert then took them out on the lake in the hopes of catching a big bass. 

Just before "blast off," anglers and their military co-anglers were treated to a presentation of colors, an invocation, the national anthem, and as an added bonus, a parachute landing in the lake by the Black Daggers, an Army Special Operations Command Parachute Demonstration Team. 

Another treat for those in attendance was the presence of two war veterans Rudy Hernandez, former Army and Korean War Medal of Honor recipient, and Roger Rogers, WWII B-17 Bombardier in the Army Air Force, who showed up to support the men and women of today's military. 

Once the event was officially underway, boaters scurried off into the water to find the optimum spot for fishing. Some didn't do as well as others, but all seemed to enjoy getting the day off of work while getting the "VIP" treatment. 

"This event was exceptionally well-organized, the camaraderie was great, it was a beautiful day and everyone I talked to was having a blast," said Staff Sgt. Jay Hook, 2nd Airlift Squadron. "All of the volunteers and sponsors have, without a doubt, made this day a 100 percent great event." 

When it was time to come in out of the water, participants readily brought in their catches for the day; the stipulations being that all fish had to be at least 16 inches and each team was limited to five fish. 

Senior Airman Gregory Dailey, 43rd Comptroller Squadron, caught a couple of fish that were just shy of the required length. However, at the end of the day, he and his angler, Lee Williams, a pro bass fisher who volunteered his expertise for the event, weighed in their fish at 3.7 pounds. 

"I really enjoyed this event," Mr. Williams said. "It was fun taking him out and watching him fish. If I can sign up today to help out again next year, I am going to do it." 

Airman Dailey added "I had a lot of fun. Getting to learn from a pro fisherman and also taking in the awesome scenery made the whole day seem perfect." 

Sergeant Hook and his angler for the day, Master Sgt. Jerry Woodard, stationed at Seymour Johnson AFB, caught a fish at the end of the tournament by using white spinner bait and reeling in the fish slowly after not seeing many results earlier in the day. 

Sergeant Woodard heard about this tournament last year after seeing it advertised on television while deployed. He checked on the dates of this year's event and decided to volunteer as a boater. 

"I saw the advertisements for it and I thought, 'geez, I have a boat,' so I decided to volunteer to take someone on the water," he said. "It was nice to get these guys on the water who don't normally fish. I got to know a lot of great people, and I just had an incredible time volunteering and spending the day out on the lake." 

Sergeant Hook was especially touched by the willingness of the volunteers and community to give up their time, and in some cases money, in order to give back to the men and women of the Armed Forces. 

"The American public loves us and they are proud of their sons and daughters," he said. "They are willing to give back and that is well received. We, as servicemembers, appreciate their kindness and hospitality and all of their support goes a long way in helping us do what needs to be done." 

During the final weigh in and award ceremony, servicemembers were treated to all-they-could-eat Texas Roadhouse after spending an eventful day on the lake. 

The Warriors on the Water event, which began in 2005 with about 57 boaters, has now grown to 151 boaters this year. The total number of fish caught during the tournament was 132, the total weight of the fish caught was 485.5 pounds and the number of teams that weighed in fish was 73. 

"This year was the best ever," Mr. Abshire said. "They have all been good but this one was the best. We've gotten smarter as we've gone along and everyone sticks to his own area of expertise which makes things get smoother every year. We are already making plans for next year. I am glad we have a whole year to work on how to make it even more spectacular next year."