Wounded veterans go fishin’ with the pros

CLINTON, Ill. — While on a mission in Iraq in 2003, Sgt. 1st Class Gary Everett of Dayton, Ohio, was nearly killed when an ammunition dump was exploded by a suicide bomber. Staff Sgt. MarkDaniel Brasel of Toledo, Wash., an Army Ranger, came to his rescue. He, too, was badly injured.

Today, the two men were reunited on Clinton Lake, Ill., during the Hope For The Warriors fishing tournament for wounded veterans, a friendly competition in which Bassmaster All-Star anglers served as guides and fishing companions. Everett, who fished with seven-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam, won with a 4-pound, 9-ounce largemouth.

Everett’s multiple injuries make it difficult to stand, but VanDam had him lean against the fishing seat as they stood side-by-side and cast to schools of bass. Everett estimated his best five bass would have weighed nearly 12 pounds, a remarkable catch under the difficult fishing conditions this week in central Illinois.

The event is a regular highlight of the Toyota Trucks All-Star Week taking place this weekend in Decatur, Ill., and it is designed to help returning and injured veterans enjoy recreational activities similar to ones they enjoyed before life-changing injuries. For the bass fishing professionals, it’s a way of saying thank you to men and women who sacrificed so much for their country, said VanDam.

“It’s humbling. It’s an honor to get to go out with these guys,” VanDam added.

Although he faced a two-day drive to fish another tournament in Texas, Bassmaster Elite Series angler Terry Scroggins didn’t hesitate when invited to take a wounded warrior fishing. “For all the sacrifices they’ve done for us, it’s the least we can do for them.”

Everett was elated to be paired with VanDam. He was slated to participate in the 2011 Hope For The Warriors tournament in Montgomery, Ala., but instead had to undergo more surgery. As consolation, Kevin’s wife, Sherry, sent Everett some gifts.

“Fishing here gives me hope that there is a future,” said Everett, 48, a 20-year Army veteran. “It makes me feel good that people care about us. So many people are coming back wounded. It hurts to be alive and to think that you might be forgotten.”

Hope For The Warriors is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to enhance the quality of life for post-9/11 service members, their families and the families of the fallen who have sustained physical and psychological wounds in the line of duty.

Also participating in the tournament were Brasel, who fished with Angler of the Year Brent Chapman of Lake Quivira, Kan.; Chief Warrant Officer John Lightsey of Atlanta, Ga., paired with Matt Herren of Trussville, Ala.; Lance Cpl. Christopher McNair of Stafford, Va., with Todd Faircloth of Jasper, Texas; and James Nelson, former Army Specialist from Indiana, with Scroggins.

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