Wounded Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Ft. Campbell, KY, arrived in Florence, AL October 31. En route, the Soldiers were escorted by a fleet of Patriot Guard motorcycles and various law enforcement vehicles. The Soldiers came to Florence to participate in Operation HOOAH hosted by Southern Fishing News. The event pairs a recovering wounded Soldier with an area bass fisherman for two days of fishing. Pickwick and Wilson Lake were where the warriors would hone their fishing skills or go fishing for the first time.
The event is not formatted like a traditional tournament is. The Soldiers just go fishing. This approach is used to reduce the stress on the men and women. No fish are brought for a weigh-in. That also assists the military anglers with their stories back at the ramp. If there are no fish in the live well then there is plenty of room for establishing good-natured fish tales back at the ramp.
Less than perfect weather conditions greeted the visitors and their volunteer guides when they arrived at the ramp in McFarland Park in Florence. The water level had dropped about six feet and had been rising and falling. The temperature at the 8 A.M. launch was hovering around 29 degrees F. The “teams” found that many of the bass had backed off the drop-offs and minnow-infested shallower water to suspend in the water column. A suspending bass is very difficult to catch.
The Screaming Eagle troopers hung in there and kept trying and learning. SGT John-Mark Tarr, fishing with guide Randy Corsbie on day one caught 35 fish. When asked what kind of fish they were Corsbie responded, “Anything in the water that will eat a minnow.” Guide Scott Towrey
fished Saturday with SPC James Barahona. Barahona caught 11 bass with the biggest weighing 4.1 pounds. For all intent and purposes, a fish could have been declared as a seven-pounder- the “facts” that fishing stories are made of. Barahona enticed the bass with a small, Bomber-like crankbait given to him by Towrey (and taken back to Ft. Campbell). The wounded Soldiers enjoyed the days fishing fish story or not.
Fishing on Wilson Sunday included the cold weather and complimentary wind from the northeast. Fishing was also difficult as well as finding fish that would bite.
Comments from the warriors reflected how important a simple day of fishing was to these Soldiers. “I honestly can’t explain what this event has done for me. Top-notch all the way.”
“Everything was awesome. Everyone was very friendly and very professional. The event was well organized. Thanks for all the gifts and for one-on-one instruction on fishing. Mr. Don (Don Gowen) was very patient with me! Mr. Bill (Bill Strickland) was a fun guide to fish with. Thanks for everything! I will be going for back and hip surgery soon and my healing process has already start(ed) with all ya’ll. Thanks for all you do for us!”
“This is a great event and there is no telling how many marriages are saved and suicides were prevented. The guides and support personnel are great people that have given so much and may never know how much effect it has on Soldiers and their families.”
“This trip was very therapeutic! This means a lot that we have people that give back to the Soldiers. I really enjoyed my time here and look forward to seeing everyone next year! HOOAH!”
“You will never know how much this event meant to me. Words cannot explain the feelings I have for all of you. Thank you for a great weekend of fishing. The guides were awesome and I have nothing to add to your event. If you have this next year I will be the first to sign-up. God bless you in your travels and bless your families. We love you all.”
The November 1 & 2 event was the third in the annual series. The mission of Operation HOOAH (Healing Outside An Army Hospital) is to assist the wounded Soldier in the healing process for physical and mental wounds. Ron McDonald, publisher and editor of Southern Fishing News said, “The Warrior Transition Battalion, Ft. Campell, told me no less than three Soldiers’ lives had been saved by patients that participated in the 2013 outing.”
McDonald credited individuals, area businesses both large and small, as well as organizations and local government in making the healing event a first-class effort. A former 101st Airborne Soldier himself, McDonald pointed out the support given to Operation HOOAH by national fishing industry companies. Cash, products, and services are how support is provided.
The online photo album for the event is located HERE for viewing and/or downloading. Additional photos are being added daily to the album.
Operation HOOAH & Skeet Reese
Most of our readers on Southern Fishing News’ website Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and our emails news are aware we host the annual Operation HOOAH (Healing Outside Of An Army Hospital). The project brings wounded Soldiers, primarily from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) from Ft. Campbell, KY, to the Shoals Area to spend a couple of days fishing.
Local businesses and individuals have been very generous in supporting our effort. The city of Florence, AL, Lauderdale County Commission, and the Florence-Lauderdale Tourism are examples of municipal support. Area bass fishermen, and sometimes women, provide boats and fishing equipment/lures for the Soldiers and act as guides on Pickwick and Wilson Lakes
The office at the Warrior Transition Battalion, 101st Airborne, has a mission to allow Soldiers to connect with the civilian community in a controlled, relaxed environment greatly reducing the anxiety that a Soldier faces returning from combat or prior to separating from the Army. Provide wounded and injured, both physically and mentally, Soldiers the opportunity to participate in outdoor-oriented activities they would otherwise be unable to experience due to injuries, emotional anxiety, lack of funds, or other issues. Allowing these Soldiers to push themselves promotes self-confidence, teamwork, and motivation. The program also promotes awareness of the U.S. Army and wounded Soldiers in particular.
Material from the Warrior Transition Battalion says “ At least 21 Soldier’s lives were saved as a result of participating in these outdoor activities in 2013.” At least three Soldiers’ lives were saved as a result of their participation in Operation HOOAH according to leaders of the Warrior Transition office.
Soldiers and volunteers have created life-long friendships because of these events. Many have also found jobs through connections that could have only happened by attending an event. Soldiers who have attended events, especially for the first time, typically show newfound happiness and a sense of purpose that cannot be obtained any other way.
To support this event, cash donations and product donations are solicited locally and from fishing industry manufactures. To this end, we are doing something new for 2014 to raise funds- raffle a tournament jersey worn by the well-known bass pro, Skeet Reese, autographed and framed under glass.
The jersey was donated to Southern Fishing News by Eddie Plemons, President of the Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation. The raffle tickets will sell for $2.00 each. Drawing for the valuable keepsake jersey will be November 2 during the 2014 Operation HOOAH. The winner will not have to be present to win.
We are requesting bass clubs and other interested organizations, as well as individuals, to help us sell the raffle tickets. Bass clubs and non-profit organizations will get a promotional price so the effort can be made as their own fundraiser. Any bass club, organization, or individual(s) wanting to participate in this grand undertaking should send an email to [email protected] for the details. Basically, you tell us how many raffle tickets for the Skeet Reese jersey wanted. We mail them to you with a specified return date for the cash, stubs, and any unsold tickets.
The raffle tickets will be available beginning next week (July 14, 2014). Thank you for considering supporting this Operation HOOAH fundraiser.
2014 SFN Operation HOOAH emblem revealed
Southern Fishing News, the host for Operation HOOAH, has released the emblem for the 2014 event. Ron McDonald, publisher and editor of Southern Fishing News explained that “Operation HOOAH” brings twenty wounded Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) to Florence, AL the first Saturday and Sunday in November each year. The Soldiers fish with a volunteer guide on Pickwick and Wilson Lake. McDonald continued, “The design of the Operation HOOAH graphic, that appears on caps and T-shirts for the Soldiers, guides, and volunteers are changed each year. Many of the guides and other volunteers return to assist in getting the Soldiers on the water. A new emblem provides them with caps and T-shirts that are different each year.”
The 2014 SFN Operation HOOAH emblem design.
Guides for the 2014 event are being provided by the Shoals Fishers of Men bass club and Southern Fishing News. Many of the volunteer bass fishermen establish friendships with their Soldiers that continue after the event is over. Some Soldiers even return to Florence fish again with their guide or return with a buddy to fish the lakes again.
McDonald emphasized the support of local business owners and fishing manufacturers for the event. “Business owners and managers in the area supported the event from day one. Every year more area business concerns join in supporting the Soldiers and the event. Individuals also lend their support with donations and by volunteering to help with boat launching and recovery, food and providing extra boats for media and guide stand-by. The Marriott provides rooms for the wounded Soldiers as well as some meals. The hotel also goes a step further with a donation. Community organizations like Florence-Lauderdale Tourism, University of North Alabama R.O.T.C. and local government including the city of Florence, AL, and the Lauderdale County Commission have endorsed the importance of Operation HOOAH with support. We could not hold the event were it not for these businesses, organizations and individuals,” McDonald said with appreciation.
The 2014 event will be the third year Operation HOOAH has helped Soldiers with “Healing Outside Of an Army Hospital. The dates for this year are November 1 and 2.
To inquire about getting involved with Operation HOOAH contact Southern Fishing News at [email protected].
Wounded Soldiers Fish the Shoals
Twenty recovering, wounded Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Ft. Campbell, KY, rolled into Florence, AL Friday evening, November 1. Their arrival was marked by the roar from the motorcycle engines of the Alabama Patriot Guard Riders and the flashing blue lights of the Florence Police Department. The Patriot Guard Riders, some veterans themselves, had escorted the Soldiers all the way from the Alabama-Tennessee state line into town with municipalities along the way providing additional police escort. Witnesses to the convoy had no doubt someone of import had arrived.
The Soldiers had made the three hours plus trips in response to an invitation from Southern Fishing News to participate in the second Operation HOOAH. While “HOOAH” is a word heard around many military bases and means a myriad of things, including I understand or I agree, the “HOOAH” used in this event is an acronym for “Healing Outside Of an Army Hospital”.
Ronnie McDonald, Publisher, and Editor of southernfishingnews.com explained the purpose of the event was to give the Soldiers an opportunity to use fishing as a tool for some physical and mental healing. McDonald said, “getting these wounded Soldiers out of the hospital environment and on the water fishing brings them back into the community and the reality of real life.”
Twenty area volunteer bass fishermen made their time, knowledge, boats, and fishing gear available to their assigned Soldier. Each “boat guide” was assigned a different Soldier to fish with each day of the two-day event. That is with the exception of the one female warrior in the contingent who fished with a female guide both days.
The fishing activity began at 8 a.m. Saturday morning on Pickwick Lake from McFarland Park. The temperatures were a little on the chilly side in the morning but not too uncomfortable and warmed into the 60s as the day passed. A great day for fishing had the wind dropped. Still, by the 3 p.m. check-in time, many of the boats had found some fish, of some description. Regardless of whether they caught a fish or not, the Soldiers had a great time with their guides.
The Sunday venue for the outing was Wilson Lake. The 101st Airborne Troopers only had a short, five-minute drive to the Fleet Harbor ramp since their lodging for the weekend was being provided by Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa on the north side of Wilson Dam. Sunday carried an earlier 7 a.m. launch since boat return was noon. The temperature en route across Wilson Dam was 39 degrees F. After pairings with their new guides everyone scrambled to get in the water and on their way. The wind was a stiff breeze out of the east.
Several boats made a run straight for the east end of the lake to fish the rocks and current below Wheeler Dam. Others shot out to various creeks in search of schools of minnows. By noon several boats had registered catches of largemouth, smallmouth, catfish, and drum. Again, the hunt was what was important to the Soldiers. Catching a fish was a bonus for most.
Volunteer crews from as far away as Decatur backed trailers down the ramp for the boat guides as had been done in the morning launch. Awaiting all the fishermen was a grand lunch in the parking lot prepared again this year by Cathy Scott and her family. The Scott family volunteered to provide this lunch for the Soldiers and the guides each year. Desserts were also prepared and donated so all left the tables with a justifiable feeling that they had eaten too much.
As is customary, Certificates of Participation were awarded to the Soldiers, and Certificates of Appreciation were presented to the volunteer boat guides by McDonald. Certificates of Appreciation were also presented to Southern Fishing News for distribution to sponsors of Operation HOOAH by the 101st Airborne Transition Program at Ft. Campbell. Without the cash and product sponsors, there would be no Operation HOOAH.
Their support cannot be minimized. Supporters of this event are encouraged to support these sponsors as appropriate since they are individuals, organizations, municipalities, county governments, businesses, and manufacturers. They include Steve & Dorla Evans, Gowen Consulting, TTI-Blakemore, R&M Heating and Cooling, Florence-Lauderdale Tourism, Steve & Loretta Vass, Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa, Slider Lures, Neese Realty, Doc Irv’s Custom Baits, Scott Family, Harold’s Marine Service, Richard Laxson, Flanagan Refrigeration, University of North Alabama ROTC, Edwards Oil Co. Shell, Shoals Outdoor Sports, Tracker Boats-Florence, AL, Bass Pro Shops, Texas Roadhouse, Lew’s, Gray’s Tackle, Long-Lewis Foundation, City of Florence, AL, Lauderdale County AL Commission, Perkins Outdoors, Bass Assassin, Burch’s Tackle, Bentley Chevrolet-Cadillac, Alabama Patriot Guard Riders, DHCA Fishing Eagles, Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation, Grand Rental Station, Git Bit Baits, Shoals Youth Bassmasters, Bassmasters of North Alabama, and the Shoals Fishers of Men.
McDonald had special thanks as planning for the 2014 event begins. The organizer pointed out important, detailed contributions from Richard Laxson, Ernie Darracott, Randy Corsbie and Brady Flanagan for help with the event.
The smiles on the faces of the wounded Soldiers, even if they were tired smiles, indicated the 2013 Operation HOOAH had attained the goal of enriching the lives of these heroes even if just for a couple of days. If the 2013 event is any indication, many of these Soldiers made lifelong friends with those they shared the boat with. Some will come back on their own to fish with their new friend. Others will just keep in touch via email and/or phone for years to come.
Photos from the event may be viewed and downloaded by clicking here. Video story of the event from WAFF-TV 48, Huntsville, AL, is posted below for viewing with the permission of the author.
Southern Fishing News Operation HOOAH brings wounded warriors to North Alabama lakes
As a six-vehicle convoy of wounded warriors cleared the gates of Ft. Campbell, KY on Friday, November 3, 2012, they were immediately taken under the escort of a Tennessee chapter of the Patriot Guard Riders headed for the Alabama state line. Scores of American flags waved furiously from motorcycles driven by patriots. The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) HOOAH (Healing Outside Of A Hospital) Soldiers were on their way to a two-day fishing trip event, originated by Southern Fishing News called “Operation HOOAH”, on Pickwick and Wilson Lake in northwest Alabama. The North Alabama Chapter of the Patriot Guard took over escort duty at the Alabama state line and brought the Soldiers into Florence. Twenty volunteer boat captains/guides were standing ready there with bass boats, lures, rods and reels, and at least, an everyday fishing knowledge of the lakes to be fished.
The combined efforts of all these plans, people, and sponsors were directed at one goal- Healing Outside Of A Hospital.
To view or download photos from the 2012 Southern Fishing Operation HOOAH visit our Picassa Web Album.
The WAFF News Operation HOOAH 2013 Video
The WHNT News 19 Operation HOOAH Video
Southern Fishing News 2012 Operation HOOAH
Southern Fishing News publisher and editor, Ron McDonald, has announced, his bass fishing Internet publication is sponsoring a two-day fishing event in North Alabama for 20 wounded warriors from the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), Ft. Campbell, Ky. Operation HOOAH (Healing Outside Of An Army Hospital) outing will be held on November 3-4, 2012. The Soldiers will fish two different lakes with volunteer bass anglers as guides. The volunteer anglers will provide their own personal fishing equipment and lure for the Soldiers to use.
McDonald said, “The purpose of this event is to not only get these Soldiers out of the Army hospital for a couple of days of bass fishing but to facilitate their mental healing as well. Most of our bass fishing guides will be local anglers but we will have some coming from Ft. Campbell itself.”; He also said the Operation HOOAH fishing event is planned as an annual undertaking until there is no 101st Airborne Soldier need.
The wounded warriors and fishing guides will be fishing on Pickwick Lake, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, 7 AM to 3 PM out of McFarland Park in Florence, Ala. Sunday, November 4, the teams will be on Wilson Lake fishing the smaller impoundment from 7 AM until noon.