Reported by Jeff Tokarczyk – Sr. Human Resources Manager
In May of 2011, Jim Jenkins, CEO of Westway Group Inc. walked into my office and said he wanted Westway to “take a group of soldiers fishing”. Jim was aware that a national program called TASF (Take a Soldier Fishing) helped groups/companies coordinate such events across the country. The organization is led by a group of Wounded Warriors that have served in multiple combat theaters. The objective of the organization is to support our Armed Service members by helping folks recognize what the soldiers do for us. The TASF motto is “Freedom Isn’t Free” meaning that every day armed service members across the world are putting their safety on the line so we can live the lives we live. So the 1st Annual TASF New Orleans Bayou Fishing event was born.
On Friday afternoon, 9/30/11, we transported 21 soldiers and three family members in from Fort Polk. We put them up for the weekend at the Hilton Riverside Hotel located in downtown New Orleans. The Hilton severely discounted the 30 rooms needed to house our Soldiers. Thank you Brandy, Lisa and all the folks at the Hilton.
Westway kicked off the weekend event by hosting a Friday afternoon dinner at Mother’s Restaurant on Poydras St. Utilizing their private banquet room the participants included: the soldiers, Westway hosts (the majority were veterans), several Fishing Captains and four members of the TASF Program. Mother’s represented NOLA in fine style by serving up all of the traditional New Orleans dishes.
On Saturday, 10/1/11, twelve (12) area Captains donated a day’s trip to take the soldiers fishing. Seven (7) of which were dontated by Griffin Fishing. Griffin Fishing's (Captain Jason Ward, Captain Kris Hebert, Captain Brock Ledet , Captain Nick Dinet, Captain Donavon Hinton, Captain Jody Hebert Jr and Captain Casey Rojas donated their time for our soldiers.
The morning started off a bit ominous. We had 25-30 mph winds that were howling out of the North. Let’s just say Mother Nature decided to give us a bit of a challenge as the high winds muddied up the water. Despite the conditions every boat caught fish. I will tell a quick story in order to give you a flavor as to how the day went.
I had the distinct privilege and honor of fishing with Specialist Scott Hay and Specialist Tasha Parsons. Our Captain was Tim Ursin Sr (aka Captain Hook) out of Shell Beach. Specialist Parson’s had recently returned from a twelve month tour of duty from Iraq. She served as a medic just outside Bagdad. Prior to this weekend, Specialist Parson’s had caught a grand total of one fish in her life. Right from the start Captain Tim took a special interest in making sure Specialist Parsons caught some fish. He worked with her on casting, setting the hook, reeling in the fish and most importantly “getting them in the boat”. Specialist Parson’s quickly caught on and by the end of the day had caught nine (9) different species of fish. She was bringing in Speckled Trout on a regular basis and landed a beautiful 22” Redfish that for most of the day had boat bragging rights. Not to be outdone, Specialist Hay’s landed fish all day including an awesome 29” Red that broke his reel. Despite the hard feelings about how Mr. Red broke his reel, I was mighty proud of Scott when he made the decision to release the fish (we had plenty already on ice) so it could live to be caught another day. Wow was that fun to watch. This scene with Captain Tim, Tasha and Scott repeated itself on multiple occasions across the Bayou on a windy but beautiful day.
After a full days fishing we all convened at Griffin Fishing Campsite in Lafitte for a Cook Your Catch Reception. James and his crew at Griffin donated the use of the facility at no cost. A big thank you to Griffin Charters for doing that, for hosting the reception and most importantly for taking care of our troops in style. Big Al, from Big Al’s Saloon in New Orleans, came in and cooked up the days catch. Big Al fried up a mess of fish, grilled the Red’s on the half shell and added some nice Soft Shell Crabs and Shrimp to boot. He threw in some hot dogs, hamburgers and chili for the land lovers. Big Al catered the event at cost only. We appreciate Big Al for donating his time and efforts to serve up our troops. Thanks Big Al for an awesome meal of fresh fish.
Following dinner, Mayor Tim Kerner of Laffite spoke to the soldiers and communicated how appreciative he and all of the folks in the area are for the sacrifices they make for us. Following the mayors speech prizes for the soldiers fishing competition were awarded. I had already mentioned that Specialist Hay’s had landed a 29” Red Fish. There were also several Reds in the 28” range. But 1st Lieutenant Carmen Williams (fishing with Captain Mike Gallo) outdid all by landing a 29 ½ inch Red Fish that took home first prize in the Biggest Red Fish competition. But Carmen wasn’t done. She also took home 2nd prize with Most Keeper Red Fish (9 keepers over 16”) and her husband CW2 Kirk Williams was the Mixed Bag Champion. A clean sweep by the Williams and Captain Mike! I later learned that Carmen donated her second prize to one of the other soldiers to help them out. Way to go Carmen we are mighty proud of you. The day ended with appreciation plaques issued by Ernest Chainey, President of TASF, to the main supporters of the event and then pictures. We then transported the soldiers back to New Orleans.
I saw the soldiers off Sunday morning from the hotel as we put them on the bus to head back to Fort Polk. I must have heard “I had a blast” a dozen times. After getting several pictures of caught fish thrust in my face, I asked one quiet and reserved soldier what he caught. He quietly responded “I did good. I caught several. But it didn’t matter. I could have caught no fish and this still would have been the best weekend I’ve ever had since joining the military. Thank you so much for having us.” As the bus departed the soldiers gave Westway one last military “Hooah” to say goodbye. What an amazing feeling.
Thank you to all who participated and helped out to make the event such a smashing success. We accomplished our mission of honoring and showing our appreciation to some of America’s finest. What a great feeling to be part of an organization and community that can pull together to make something like this happen. Great job everybody and thank you to all Armed Service members across the globe for keeping us free.
Today the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the reopening of 5,628 square miles of Gulf federal waters west of the Mississippi River to commercial and recreational fishing. This reopening accompanies the start of a special recreational red snapper season announced by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) just last week.
Read the full article here… http://web.wlf.la.gov/taxonomy/term/347/0