I never dreamed my adult life would be so different from that of my childhood, but gone are the days of coming home with no responsibilities other than hunting for squirrel or occasionally cutting grass or throwing hay bales on a trailer. As a child, I was raised on a farm where my Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles all lived in their respective houses within walking distance of each other. My Dad adopted me and my brother at an early age after marrying my Mother and discovering our biological father would never be present in our lives. In fact, I did not meet my biological father until after I graduated basic training. His passion for sewing his oats was stronger than any desire to truly love that which he produced.
Shortly after my Mom and Dad married, we moved to Pascagoula Mississippi where my sister and two brothers would be introduced to the world of saltwater fishing. With time, the flame of passion for fishing was ignited and would grow strong within us. We would live there for about 3 years before returning back to Georgia where a love for hunting would merge with our love of fishing, building an even greater passion for everything outdoors.
Much of our time was spent working the farm, hunting and fishing, and going to church. Church is where we would meet most of the people that we could truly call our friends. It was also a point of education where our knowledge of hunting and fishing was increased by certain members of the congregation. Little did we realize that even though my parents struggled to bring home enough money to raise what ended up to be 6 children, we had it better than many kids our age. There was never a shortage of love, food and hot chocolate.
After graduating high school and joining the military, I would begin to experience a culture shock unlike anything I had ever planned for. A young Christian man that was taught not to say the word "butt" as a substitute for "bottom" or "buttock" would quickly learn the vocabulary of the military was much more broad. It was during this time that I would learn what the Bible meant by "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it." That does not mean I did not stray. I can honestly and regrettably say that I was far from sinless and struggled with my ability to resist temptation. However, that trust in God would never leave me and when I strayed, much like the prodigal son, I would return back to him....eventually.
Fast forward a number of years and I would enter the Army National Guard as the "old guy" where my body would experience more abuse than I thought it capable of. My first assignment was as a 13F, (Forward Observer) where I would learn to draw a terrain map, determine distances and call for fire as we destroyed a number of immobile targets. I would later transfer to Company H, 121st Infantry Long-Range Surveillance Detachment (LRS-D) at the age of 32, where I found myself struggling to keep up with the young Rangers that I was serving with. However, my squad leader knew the difficulties I was experiencing and used his outside voice and something that came from more deep within, to motivate the extra effort out of me and increase not only my strength, but also my stamina. This is where I realized my love for the Army and the infantry. I would later move to South Carolina where I would requalify as an 11B, completing my goal of becoming an infantry soldier with a well-honed ability to call for fire. As time progressed and we began training for deployment, I would learn that degenerative disk disease would prevent me from deploying with our unit and ultimately from reaching retirement. Little did I realize the impact that breaks in service (3) would have on my ability to make it more than 14 years.
Since leaving the military with a small disability rating, I found it more an more difficult to do some of the things that were once routine to me. I dealt with many of the same concerns with the VA that led so many of us to seek civilian care to address our issues. Only recently did I return to the VA to find a few things had changed for the better.
Fast Forward yet again, and things have progressed considerably. Around August of 2019, my wife and I made a decision to begin an endeavor to help our disabled veterans through fishing. This decision was driven by the obstacles that I encountered as a disabled vet and the relief I found while out on the water. In December of 2019, my we purchased a Sportsman Tournament 234 (pictured) from a local pro angler, with the hope of providing a good platform for our disabled veterans to fish from. This boat design would allow us to fish primarily inshore, but also at the near shore reefs on a good day. It was a step up from the Ranger Banshee flats skiff I had been operating earlier in the year, allowing me to fish at least 4 people at a time comfortably as opposed to 2. However, we would quickly learn that many of the areas we preferred were now simply inaccessible due to the additional 8 inches of draft. We were very fortunate to gain a couple of sponsors soon after filing our Articles of Incorporation and submitting our application for 501c3 nonprofit status. These sponsors and a rather healthy sum of dollars from my own pocket would help us kick off our first year of service, gain a handful of members along the way.
As word began to get around, we started receiving emails and phone calls asking how to join the organization and how much we charged for our trips. That was easy. Joining the organization can be completed through our company store, and we never provide trips with any expectation of remuneration. Our trips are specifically provided as a recreational outlet to disabled veterans at absolutely no cost to them. Many find the experience of the camaraderie, fellowship and the rush of adrenaline that you get when fighting a fish are similar to that which they experienced on the battlefield in the military. There is something appealing that draws them back time and again, building an addiction to the game, while providing relief from the stresses encountered due to their individual disabilities. Since last year, we have added positions to our Board of Directors, in an effort to provide focus on certain aspects of our operations. Even today, we are preparing to add an Associate Director of Mobility Solutions to ensure our limited mobility clients have an opportunity to fish and enjoy the water effectively. I'm sure this will mean a new boat is in our future, but we work hard to ensure our opportunities are not biased based on the level of the complexity of a disability.
The past two weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions as we searched for two brothers that had been involved in a boating accident. We would later discover the body Joe, the military member with the body of his brother Thomas being found shortly thereafter. I said a prayer over the young man that I had found while waiting on the South Carolina DNR and rescue divers to recover the bodies. A few days later, we were able to provide the Mom and sister with an opportunity to place flowers at the sites where he and his brother were discovered. With this came a number of unanticipated donations from family and friends of the victims, at the Father's request. While we are very thankful for the donations provided, it is with great sorrow that they resulted from two men losing their lives. In memory of Joe's military service, we placed a dog tag on our boat where we honor our fallen heroes. Additionally, we renewed sponsorship from a previous sponsor, while securing two additional new sponsorships.
As we move into 2022, our organization is looking to host 3 tournaments in 3 different states. The tournaments are a way of raising funds for our organization while bringing educating fishermen about the opportunities we provide in the states of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Look for more information on these tournament opportunities in an upcoming blog or on our Facebook page.
Finally, Casting for a Cause has incorporated a Victories for Veterans program. This will provide an opportunity for disabled veterans to be paired with a mentor and compete in various tournaments that range from fishing to golf to sharp-shooting. This program is fully dependent on the amount of support received and may be limited in scope by the amount of funds raised. Please consider a donation to the Victories for Veterans program through our website store, as we try to raise $10,000 to cover the expenses of this effort.
We will continue to accept ideas from each of you as we work to address the stresses that often lead to veteran suicide. We want our organization to be busy as we endeavor to be part of the solution to a rising issue. In this effort we expect to eventually hire veterans to perform many of the services we provide. We look forward to meeting new friends each week and building a strong bond that only a military family can truly understand. Please feel free to contact us at Admin@castingforacause.net.