Over the past decade, a number of organizations have been founded with the sole purpose of taking wounded military veterans fishing.
Heroes on the Water, Take a Vet Fishing, Healing Waters, and Fishing with Wounded Military Heroes are a handful of the organizations that pair veterans with fishing partners to offer an on-water experience allowing veterans to concentrate on nothing but catching fish and enjoying the outdoors.
While most of these groups open their fishing dates to include some active duty military members, their true goal is to serve veterans. Another group though, does this same thing for our active-duty members and their families, and they have three chapters in the Carolinas. Military Appreciation Day (MAD) fishes out of Southport, N.C., Morehead City, N.C., and Charleston, S.C.
While the Morehead City and Southport chapters have already had their Appreciation Day for 2016, Charleston’s is Nov. 12. This is the Charleston chapter’s second year holding the event, after being founded by MAD volunteers who previously traveled to Morehead City and Southport to participate in those events.
MAD (www.militaryappreciationday.org) prides itself on providing everything free of charge to military members, including a huge southern-style cookout once the fishing day is done.
While the freedoms that we all enjoy would not be possible without the sacrifices of our military members, MAD would also not be possible without plenty of volunteers, including charter captains, boat owners, first mates, cooks, coordinators and other miscellaneous positions that are necessary to provide a day on the water followed by a hearty meal for so many folks.
Military Appreciation Day doesn’t just take a boatload of service members fishing, it takes numerous boatloads of service members fishing. Offshore, inshore and nearshore trips are all donated, but even those without a boat can volunteer to take troops fishing. Pier fishing and surf fishing are also fair game for a MAD event, so even people who don’t like boats can experience a full day of fishing at no charge.
This year’s Southport MAD event was held Sept. 10; 140 troops and 67 family members were involved. The Morehead City event is typically held in June, and Charleston plans to keep its event in November.
For the upcoming event in Charleston, coordinators are hoping to take at least 180 troops fishing, counting on having 50 boats and 30 volunteers to fish with the troops from the surf and piers.
A lot happens behind the scenes at these events, as volunteers show up the day before for an orientation on the schedule. While some volunteers are taking the troops fishing, plenty of others begin setting up tents, canopies, tables and playgrounds for children. Others will spend their time cooking and serving once the troops are off the water.
Alfred Riley, who is on active duty, fished at June’s Morehead City event and said it’s a memory he’ll always remember.
“I would like to thank all the volunteers for all the hard work they put into the Morehead City event, and also all the captains for allowing us to fish from our boats. It is and always will be a fantastic memory. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart,” Riley said.
But as often happens at such events, the same appreciation is felt by the volunteers themselves. David Hunsucker volunteered on one of the fishing boats and said he felt honored to be a part of giving back to the troops.
“I never served in the military, but this day made me feel like I was doing my part. I had four troops on my boat; they all caught their biggest fish, and the bantering and camaraderie was priceless. I’ve always appreciated what our military members do, and I’ve always said I support the troops, but I’d never actually done anything to show that before this event.
“These guys think we did them a favor by taking them fishing, but it’s actually them who did me a favor. Being able to help these guys relax and catch fish when I know their lives are full of uncertainty at times really gives me a new perspective. A lot of them are far from their hometowns, and it’s great to be a part of an organization that provides this for them. Anyone who thinks volunteering is a thankless activity has never offered their service to something like this.”