NATIONAL GUARDSMEN SHARE DAY ON CHETCO

November 18, 2008 11:00 pm
Art Maldonado of the 1st Battalion 1/186th Oregon Army National Guard and guide Jimmy Dean hold a king salmon and a bright Chetco steelhead taken while fishing with the Brookings Chapter of Northwest Steelheaders. (Submitted photo).
Art Maldonado of the 1st Battalion 1/186th Oregon Army National Guard and guide Jimmy Dean hold a king salmon and a bright Chetco steelhead taken while fishing with the Brookings Chapter of Northwest Steelheaders. (Submitted photo).

Members of the Northwest Steelheaders Brookings Chapter wanted to say thank you to the Army National Guard, so they decided to do what they do best.

They went fishing.

The Brookings chapter put together a salmon and steelhead fishing trip on Saturday, Nov. 15, for 19 members of the Roseburg based National Guard company.

The guardsmen are currently awaiting deployment to the Middle East, and Stan Easley, organizer of the event and NSBC member, thought the trip would make a terrific send-off.

The idea, as Easley said, was to show the troops we care and appreciate them and our freedoms.

""I understand what it's like to be hot, tired, thirsty, wondering if you're going to lose your life," said Easley, 62, himself a Vietnam veteran. "Maybe this way they can think about something good someone did for them before they head into harm's way."

The Steelheaders began Saturday by taking the 19 soldiers to a breakfast at the Apple Peddler restaurant in Brookings. After the meal, the guardsmen were assigned boats and guides. Jim Dean and Jeff Fischer, who Dave Pitts, president of NSBC calls "two of the northwest's best guides," volunteered their time to take the men fishing.

The 1st Battalion 1/186th Oregon National Guard unit took to the water and enjoyed a day of catching fish and camaraderie. They only stopped to partake of a lunch provided by the NSBC by way of Fred Meyer.

In total the crew caught eight salmon and steelhead. Guardsman Art Maldonado bought in the biggest fish of the day, a 26-pound Chinook.

No doubt the successful day angling was a welcome distraction for the men.

""These troops know a day is coming soon when they'll be hunkered down in Iraq's 120-degree heat with a 100-pound pack, trying to remember what's it's like to feel cool and relaxed," Easley said. "I hope we gave that to them."

Sgt. Dan Bennett, 35, of the 186th Battalion, said deployed soldiers try to focus on the positive.

"Through the hard times, you always think of the good times," he said.

Bennett, who served on security details previously in Kabul, Afghanistan, said experiences like this are simply fun.

"And there's no stress from getting shot at," he said.

According to Pitts, Easley and his fellow NSBC members had been looking for about a year for a group of soldiers to take fishing.

Then in April, when Easley was visiting the Veteran's Affairs Hospital in Roseburg, he took a moment to stop by the city's National Guard office. He knew they were slated for deployment in spring, 2009.

Sgt. Matt Holmes of the Roseburg office awaited him.

"(Easley) just came up out of nowhere and said he had something he wanted to do for us," said Holmes, 37, a Medford native.

Holmes said he knew many of the 128 guardsmen in their unit were sportsman, so he jumped at the opportunity.

"This is above and beyond," he said. "You have all these guides willing to take their boats out just for us. It's great."

As Easley said, the motivation is bigger than any single issue. It's about people.

"It's not about whether you agree with war or not," he said. "It's about our servicemen."