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Review for Reel American Heroes Foundation, Woodbridge, VA, USA

Rating: 5 stars  

I originally wrote this story for my company newsletter but the said it was to long and they only needed 300 words. I couldn't sum this experience up in 300 words and I felt a bit disappointed but my coworker suggested that I post it on the RAHF site and I couldn't agree more!

Recently the 7th Annual Reel American Heroes bass fishing tournament was held at Hope Springs Marina in Stafford, Virginia. The Reel American Heroes Foundation is a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit, All Volunteer Organization, founded in 2010 for the purpose of thanking our Wounded and Disabled Veterans from all service branches for the sacrifices they have made protecting our country, freedoms, and way of life. I was informed by a mutual friend and in turn, I extended an invitation to a couple of Skookum colleagues, Jay Aulabaugh and Cody Mattes. They are my in-company bass fishing rivals, but that's another story for later.
The day began with a 1:30 AM wake up call, a 2:30 am departure followed by a two-hour drive North on I-95 to the marina. I arrived early which was great because I got an excellent parking slot and it provided me a glimpse of the behind the scenes operations of which I found to be impressive. The volunteers were there in full force tents were erected, breakfast was being prepared, continuous registrations and the launching of their fellow volunteer's boats and parking their vehicles in the dead of darkness. The boat captains were all volunteers that ranged from the local area fisherman, BASS Master celebrities and anglers from out of state, some came as far away as Maine, New York, Delaware, Louisiana, and Florida to name a few.
I sat in my truck and observed all of this going on around me and started to feel something that I haven't felt in a while but I just couldn't put my finger on it. So I began to prep my gear as I awaited the crack of dawn which I found to be extremely beautiful this particular morning when it arrived. When daylight finally broke it brought along my tentative nemesis with it, at least until September arrives, then I'll set the record straight. Yes, it was Cody and Jay, they showed up with their jokes and torments from past accomplishments, oh yeah and their gear too! Without getting into too many details the story behind our rivalry revolves around a bass tournament held at Cheatham Naval Annex earlier this year in Yorktown, Virginia. I invited them along with other anglers in the company but they were the only ones to take an interest. So, when the tournament ensued Cody made it a point to upset me on the waters that I fish regularly and he and Jay somewhat accomplished their goal and I'll leave it at that for now! They took the first place and big fish award and I, notice I said "I" as in by myself, and took second place award. The last tournament was in a pond, but this tournament was held on the mighty Potomac River, which is an extremely large body of water that can overwhelm your senses.
Eating breakfast was the next order of business. A breakfast burrito made your own way was the main course. The ingredients were scrambled eggs, deep fried bacon, pork sausage and a flour tortilla. Yes, I said deep fried bacon! I stood there and watched as the chef peeled bacon strip after bacon strip from a large package and dropped each piece ever so gracefully into a pot full of hot bubbling vegetable oil. The end result was perfectly crisped deep fried bacon without much fat. Shortly after breakfast, the opening ceremony began with an ever so sharp Marine color guard and the singing of the national anthem by a young lady that was talented enough to sing acapella and delivered perfectly with a dash of goose bumps up the spine of anyone listening. Then the chaplain performed an invocation and respect was rendered to a fallen comrade. One last overview of the tournament rules and we were turned loose on the Potomac, we had six hours to catch five largemouth bass. The most weight wins the tournament.
The captain of my boat decided to run up the river for 30 minutes to visit a honey hole that we picked apart a week ago, but the fish had other plans. Only two hungry largemouth bass wanted to play with us, well with the captain at least. I caught two fish but they were the wrong type of fish. I caught a reasonable sized ringed perch and a large blue catfish. Both fish bit a lure designed for bass, I guess they wanted it more than the bass. The next few hours consisted of a frantic search for big bass in the heat of a very, very, hot day. Everything was fine until a co-angler encountered engine trouble that caused his engine to only idle. The captain and I rendered assistance by escorting them back to dock at a slow, slow idle. We had two hours left to fish, but we felt that it was more important to ensure that the other guys returned to the dock safely. It took every second of those two hours to return but we did it and no one was stranded on the water.
Upon returning we were greeted by none other than Cody himself, grinning like a chest cat talking mounds of trash, trying to get me worked up. He pulled my leg for a minute but he bombed out with zero bass to his credit. Their only fish tale was that they caught the notorious snake head fish, which is a non-native fish to American waterways. No one knows how it got here, but many anglers wish they never arrived due to the negative impact that it is having on the river ecosystem. After trading stories it was now time for lunch and what a lunch it was indeed. Corn on the cob, slaw, pulled BBQ smoked pork butts, macaroni and cheese and pork and beans. The food was excellent and reflective of the individuals that was providing service to us. The meet and greets continued as did that nagging feeling of familiarity.
Finally, after lunch Shaw Grigsby hosted the award ceremony and announced the top five teams that placed. Plaques and prizes were given out to the teams for their hard work and efforts. The event concluded with the raffle drawings, which I do believe Jay won a fishing jersey that will have his last name imprinted on the back as an additional gesture of gratitude by the RAHF organization.
In closing, starting with the beautiful early morning sunrise that gave way to the earnest hard working volunteers dropping large powerful machinery into the peaceful waters of the great Potomac River, and the preparation of a good old fashioned country breakfast on an open flame pit filling the air with wonderful smells that would make a grown man cry, to the culmination of a tough but yet first-rate bass tournament, I found this whole experience to be absolutely amazing and one of the best means of therapy! The admirable heart felt service that the volunteers rendered will forever be in the forefront of my mind. I understand the event was to show appreciation for veterans and without a doubt the goal was met ten times over. I am absolutely honored and humbled by the genuine unconditional love and selfless dedication that poured out of the hearts of the people involved with this organization. My hat is off to the RAHF and more so to the people who selflessly volunteered to drive it to a total success.
I finally remembered what that nagging feeling was that troubled me in a good way. That feeling is what veterans know as Esprit de corps which means the common spirit existing in the members of a group and inspiring enthusiasm, devotion, and strong regard for the honor of the group. On this day, past and present members of all branches of the United States military joined forces with local citizens and forged a rock solid bond as one, resulting in a hell of a good time on the Potomac River.

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