Wounded Warriors cast into Savannah lake
April 12, 2011
HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. - Eleven Soldiers with Fort Stewart's Warrior Transition Battalion endured 90-degree temperatures on the water at Lake Mayer in Savannah, April 9, as they partnered with local anglers for the Take a Soldier Fishing Wounded Warrior Bass Tournament.
Sergeant First Gene Elliott teamed with local angler Kyle Giella, a former member of the Georgia Southern University fishing team, to come away with the winning catch - their largest five fish totaled 16 pounds, 6 ounces, and they also caught the biggest bass, weighing in at 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
For Giella, who hopes to join the professional bass fishing circuit in the coming years, it was the opportunity to thank U.S. Soldiers.
"The U.S. military does something that protects our freedom and serves us in a manner I can't even imagine and I'm extremely grateful for everything that they do," Giella said. "I just like to do any little thing that I can to give back to the military."
Sergeant First Class Elliott suffered neck, shoulder and back injuries in an IED explosion just south of Baghdad.
For the Soldiers who fished in the event, it was a chance to get some tips from expert anglers.
"They helped us out a lot because they're professionals, so they really gave us the opportunity to see what it's like to do bass fishing," said Sgt. Marcus Williams. Sergeant Williams suffered spinal injuries and loss of hearing during two separate combat incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I'm used to throwing the bait out there in the water and just waiting, and there's more to fishing than that - you've got to know where the fish beds are, what time of day it is to know where the fish are - learning that is something I'm going to be able to take back to the fishing ponds at Fort Stewart."
After a Captain's night at the Hunter Army Airfield Club April 8, the Soldiers touched down at Lake Mayer and were in the water, one Soldier and one angler per boat, by 7 a.m., April 9. They fished for six hours, as the temperature rose steadily to a record-setting 92 degrees. A U.S. Coast Guard ceremonial Flyover at 1 p.m. signaled the end of the fishing tournament, when the boats were taken out of the water on their trailers and the Soldiers were paraded to the weigh station.
The brainchild for the event, sponsored by Bass Anglers Plus, Inc. and the Chatham County Park Services, is Byron Stephens, a retired U.S. Army major. He said he spent several years putting the concept of the fishing tournament together before partnering with the military to see the tournament become a reality.
As the Soldiers and anglers cast into the water, a festival took place on land, complete with refreshment stands giving away hot dogs, sodas and Brunswick stew, and displays from the U.S. Marines to the Chatham County Bomb Squad. All the while, the Ramblin' Country Band entertained the crowd.
At the end of the day, after all of the fish were weighed and released back into the water, the true meaning of the event was evident in the camaraderie between the Soldiers and the anglers as they shared a meal together.
"It means a lot to me because it shows that other people outside are really looking in and seeing what's going on with Soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq and other war zones," Sgt. Williams said. "They're really reaching out and saying 'OK, we recognize you guys and we're going to do what we can do for you, because if it wasn't for you, we wouldn't be able to do what we do.' It just really means a lot."
Wounded Warrior Bass Tournament Results
April 9 at Lake Mayer, Savannah
1. Sgt. 1st Class Gene Elliott/ Kyle Giella -16 pounds, 6 ounces (five fish)
2. Sgt. Eric Cooper/Tim Butler
-10 pounds, 12 ounces (three fish)
3. Sgt. Trace Simmons/David Poe
-8 pounds, 8 ounces (three fish)
4. 1st Sgt. Steven Jakes/Troy Strickland -8 pounds, 0 ounces (four fish)
5. Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Ketch /Lou Marroquin -7 pounds, 12 ounces (three fish)
6. Staff Sgt. Kim Tisdale/Skip Hesling -6 pounds, 12 ounces (two fish)
7. Sgt. Eric Cooper/Tim Butler
-5 pounds, 7 ounces (two fish)
8. Pfc. Jeremiah Hess/Jim Bearden
-5 pounds, 3 ounces (two fish)
9. Sgt. Marcus Williams/Brian Townsel -5 pounds, 2 ounces (two fish)
10. Sgt. 1st Class Joann Bias /Harry Rost - 4 pounds, 4 ounces (two fish)
11. Sgt. Jamela Malone/Henry Newton - 0 fish