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Texas Community Brings Troops, Civilians Together Through Fishing

By Army Sgt. Stephen Decatur
Special to American Forces Press Service

PORT O’CONNOR, Texas, May 21, 2009 – Because soldiers spend most of their time with other soldiers, their everyday lives seem completely normal to them. But every once in a while, they run into someone who tells them that what they do is extraordinary.

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Motorcyclists from the Patriot Guard Riders show their support to servicemembers at the Warrior's Weekend in Port O'Connor, Texas, May 16, 2009. Local residents treated wounded soldiers and veterans to free fishing at the event. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Stephen Decatur
  

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Army Pvt. Michael Varner, a cannon crew member from Carson City, Nev., who serves with 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, had such an experience during an event called Warrior’s Weekend here May 16. The event was set up to thank soldiers for their service and sacrifices with a day of free fishing.

“I’m used to interacting with my fellow soldiers; I haven’t had the chance to be around civilians too much,” Varner said. “A lady walked up to me and shook my hand. I kind of had to get used it.”

About 8,000 people came to the event, including almost 200 wounded soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Campbell, Ky., Fort Hood, Texas, and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., as well as many soldiers who hadn’t been wounded, said Ron Kocian, a co-chairman for the event.

So many boat owners volunteered to take the servicemembers and their families, Kocian said, that there was enough space for Vietnam veterans as well as Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans.

“It’s not just about the fishing,” Kocian said. “It’s about giving the public the opportunity to show that they love the troops.”

Kocian served in the Army during the Vietnam War, and said he got together with friends to help set up the Warrior’s Weekend because he remembers the way his fellow soldiers were treated when they returned to the United States.

“It will remind [soldiers] that they’re loved, and that we’re not forgetting them,” Kocian said.

In addition to fishing, soldiers also participated in activities such as climbing and archery at the Port O’Connor Community Center. They also attended a dedication ceremony for a field of flags put up by a local church as a show of solidarity for servicemembers.

At the end of the day, a “dinner with the troops” was held at the community center to give civilians and troopers one more chance to connect.

Julian Perez heard about the event through a motorcycle group called the Patriot Guard Riders.

“It’s for the troops,” he said. “For everything they do for us, it’s time we did something for them.”

Perez said several members of his family have served in the armed forces, and that more people need to meet servicemembers in person. “They ought to be able to sit together with these veterans and realize what they’re doing so we can enjoy our Saturday nights,” he said.

Army Spc. Ross Pelto, a Detroit native and paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, is a fishing enthusiast who was wounded during his last deployment to Iraq. He ended up getting the largest catch of his life at the event, a 37-inch red drum, or “Texas redfish,” as it’s known locally.

“This is the first event I’ve ever been to like this,” Pelto said. “I’ve never seen this kind of gratitude before; Texas really knows how to treat a veteran.”

(Army Sgt. Stephen Decatur serves with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageLeft to right, Julian Perez, Leo Ross, Rommie Hammons, Trey Ross and Joseph Riddle came to the Warrior's Weekend in Port O'Connor, Texas, to show their appreciation for servicemembers, May 17, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Stephen Decatur  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Spc. Ross Pelto holds a 37-inch red drum he caught while fishing during the Warrior's Weekend in Port O'Connor Texas, May 17, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Stephen Decatur  
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