JORDAN LAKE, N.C. (MCT) - Four women jumped out of an airplane 3,000 feet over Jordan Lake earlier this month. The jump - performed by members of the Golden Knights, the U.S. Army women's parachute team - kicked off the third annual Warriors on the Water military appreciation bass tournament, where local and national bass fishermen, about 175 strong, hosted military personnel for a day on the water.
A flock of cormorants did a fly-by before the jumpers landed on four different bass boats, hitting circular targets the size of dinner plates on the casting decks.
"Gentlemen, remove your headgear," was the order from the emcee, and after an invocation and the singing of the national anthem by Chief Warrant Officer 5 Charles King, the boats headed out.
For some soldiers, this mid-April day was a fun day off. For others, such as Sgt. John Wardell of Fort Bragg, it was a chance to put down a rifle, pick up a fishing rod and forget a war zone for a while.
"I spent about 40 days in a hole waiting for this," said the Atlanta native, who had arrived a few days ago from Afghanistan. "I signed up for this online. They happened to change the date of our redeployment, so I was able to make it."
Wardell was fishing with boater Albert "Bo" Taylor of Charlotte, a metal fabricator with Robby Gordon's NASCAR racing team.
Wardell said he fished in Afghanistan for something that resembled suckers, using MREs (Meal, Ready to Eat) for bait. Hunting and fishing were always a topic of conversation, even when bullets were flying.
"We would get into a firefight, and we'd be ducking in holes," Wardell said. "We'd talk about the fish we'd catch and the deer we'd shoot."
Wardell said his brother came home from Iraq the day before the tournament, but Wardell skipped his homecoming to fish.
The tournament was started by three Desert Storm veterans: Hal Abshire of Cameron, Bob Cunningham of Spout Springs and Greg Lahr of Fayetteville. There were 57 boats on Shearon Harris Lake the first year. The event has outgrown Harris and this year required about 60 more volunteers to host members of all four branches of service.
Abshire, a competitive bass fisherman when not working at Powers Swain Chevrolet in Fayetteville, cruised around Jordan after each group of about 60 boats started from the cove at New Hope Overlook boat access, checking on anglers, yelling encouragement and seeming to enjoy himself after a few months of spotty health.
"This is to get my senses back," he said after commenting on a day that started at 3 a.m.
He lauded the other volunteers.
"They're learning what is required to run a tournament."
Jeff Brown, an enforcement officer with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, concurred. After a quick check on the water, he docked his McKee Craft patrol boat.
"This is a first-class operation," he said. "I don't have many problems with bass anglers."
The commission even kicked in, granting a one-day fishing license waiver for all military personnel fishing in the event.
Out on the water, Staff Sgt. Clinton Hall of Fort Bragg was fishing with boater Scott Collins of Raleigh.
Hall had returned in November after a stint at Camp Loyalty in Baghdad. He was impressed with the event.
"I like it," he said, casting a plastic worm to flooded brush. "It's a good idea. I didn't think it was going to be near as big as it is. I missed fishing."
Collins, a software developer, had personal reasons for participating.
"My father-in-law passed away last year at Fort Bragg," he said as he maneuvered his Ranger bass boat. "I thought this was a good way of giving something back."
Staff Sgt. Dimitri Maye of Fort Bragg watched the weigh-in. He had spent the day with Greg Vick of Courtland, Va. The tournament was his first time in a bass boat and probably his last time fishing before shipping out to Kuwait in June.
"It's very nice of the civilians," he said. "I haven't seen this much support before. I'll be looking forward to this event when I get back."
© 2008, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.).
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