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thedrifter
10-16-08, 07:52 AM
Vets taken fishing
Wounded warriors compete on water

Mike Marsh, Correspondent


WILMINGTON - The parking lot of the Bridge Tender Marina was overflowing with vehicles, and the fact that a smoked-filled tent heavy with the scent of cooking barbecue was hogging half the parking spaces didn't help.

Though the marina's parking lot is full on busy weekends and during fishing tournaments, this particular tournament drew more than the usual number of participants and interested onlookers.

The chaotic scene was the location of the second annual Hope for the Warriors Tournament. Eight offshore boats volunteered by their owners and manned voluntarily with their captains and crews were helping wounded and disabled veterans get back on their feet for making the adjustments back to civilian life by taking them Gulf Stream fishing. Actor Will Ferrell even stopped by to greet anglers afterward.

"I had one wahoo get away," said PFC Alex Zachman, a member of the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville. "Everyone else caught a wahoo though. I'm speechless that everyone involved in the tournament keeps thanking me. Right now, my day is a boring routine. I do a little work, a little school and hang out with friends. To get to go fishing for big-game fish in the ocean is awesome."

The tournament is the brainchild of Dr. Rick Weisler, 57, a practicing psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at the UNC and Duke medical schools. He had the idea of forming a tournament while giving a lecture at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base in April 2007.

"I gave a lecture about bipolar and depression disorders," Weisler said. "I wanted to do something that might make these people feel better. I had an idea for a fun tournament and was talking to people at the Bridge Tender Marina. Everybody I spoke with wanted to help the soldiers and Marines."

The idea for the tournament became a reality, with members of the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Fort Bragg competing against members of the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Lejeune. A team of anglers from one service branch fishes on each boat. It is a fun tournament, with the winning service branch members gaining bragging rights and the captains of winning boats receiving trophies. Trophies are awarded to the captains for the biggest fish, smallest fish and most fish.

"There are a large number of people who don't have optimal responses to treatment," Weisler said. "Maybe new treatments will be developed that will be effective. But so many people are coming back with traumatic injuries it's a hallmark of this particular war. There is a higher percentage of wounded for each soldier killed because battlefield care and aftercare are so much better than in Vietnam and World War II. There are a lot more people returning with cognitive issues."

Though Weisler's major focus is on patients with post traumatic stress disorder, any wounded warrior can participate in the tournament.

"They came through the barracks and told us about the tournament," said Spec. Chase Credeur, 34, of Fayetteville. "It was first-come, first-served, and I signed up immediately."

Credeur injured his back in training and said he would be medically retired. He caught a wahoo while fishing aboard the Chicken Ship.

"I loved every moment of the trip," he said. "It's probably the greatest experience I've ever had in my life. I'm amazed that somebody would do this for us."

Adam Thompson runs the Chicken Ship, which is a commercial for-hire recreational charter boat. He said his objective was to show appreciation for people in service as well as entertain them with a sample of the area's excellent fishing.

"We took these guys on a Gulf Stream trip to show them a good time," Thompson said. "The boat is owned by House of Raeford Farms, and the owners were happy to allow the use of the boat.

"All but one of the warriors caught a wahoo, and the hooks pulled out of the fish's mouth right at the boat while the other angler was fighting his fish. It's our second year for this tournament, and I am so happy to take these guys fishing after everything they've done. They risked their lives for us. Taking them fishing is such a small way of saying thanks."

The Fort Bragg team won the tournament with a catch of 23 fish versus a catch of 13 fish by the Marines. The Army won the tournament last year, too. The biggest fish and smallest fish were caught aboard the Pole Position.

"Nothing happens without the boats and captains," Weisler said. "We had more boats volunteered than we had room to accommodate at the docks, and it's only the tournament's second year. That shows how much people care about the welfare of our wounded service members."

For more information or to make donations, visit www. hopeforthewarriors.org.

Ellie