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Donated Tackle Helps Troops Fish at Saddam's Private Lake

By Spc. Andy Miller, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Sept. 29, 2004 – The large man-made lake between Camp al-Tahreer and Camp al-Nasr here was once stocked with fish as part of Saddam Hussein's private hunting reservation, and has since become one of the largest overseas American military bases built since the Vietnam War.

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Army 1st Lt. Kevin Black (left), executive officer for 1st Cavalry Division's headquarters company, shows off a fish he caught at Camp al-Tahreer in Baghdad, Iraq, with Capt. Sean Tyson, headquarters company commander. The fish measured in at 38 inches, but the soldiers aren't sure of its species. Photo by Spc. Andy Miller, USA

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Though the lake is no longer stocked, the 1st Cavalry Division soldiers stationed here have found that fishing season is still open. The division's fishing fanatics and amateurs who fish this lake received a boost recently when an Alabama sporting goods company collected hundreds of rod and reel combos and thousands of fishing accessories for donation to the soldiers here.

The gear started arriving last June when the parents of 1st Lt. Kevin Black, executive officer for 1st Cavalry Division Headquarters Company, contacted Simmons Sporting Goods Co. of their hometown of Birmingham. When company officials heard soldiers in Iraq had a place to fish, they immediately donated about 20 rod and reel combos along with around 200 lures from their shop, according to Black.

Simmons then went on to contact equipment distributors and other fishing supply companies, which, in turn, donated more than 200 more rod and reel combos, and more than 1,000 lures, along with hooks, line, tackle boxes and other fishing equipment. The store also designed a custom 'Fishing Iraq' T-shirt and donated 450 of them for the soldiers here.

All told, more than 500 pounds of fishing equipment and paraphernalia valued at several thousand dollars was shipped from Birmingham to 1st Cavalry Division soldiers. "It really shows that the folks back home really support what we're doing over here," Black said.

Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Sanders, a 1st Cavalry Division headquarters platoon sergeant, fished the lake every day when he first arrived to al-Tahreer. He said the fishing equipment donation is a tremendous morale booster for the troops stationed here.

"I was highly impressed that they sent so much. They didn't send just 10 fishing poles -- they sent 200 fishing poles, thousands of hooks and lures. It was awesome," Sanders said. "You know their not sending all those supplies for publicity. You know they're actually doing it for dedication and support of the troops."

Black and other soldiers from Headquarters Company devised a system where soldiers can borrow the fishing gear by signing it out from the company's supply room. The soldiers plan to expand the equipment sign-out system to the nearby Morale, Welfare and Recreation tent, and may sponsor a fishing tournament where participants can receive a 'Fishing Iraq' T-shirt.

"(The donation) gives all the soldiers the opportunity to fish on their time off," Sanders said. "You can't go find hooks and lures at the (post exchange). They don't have the supplies that you need to go fishing. Being right beside the nicest lake, probably, in Iraq, it's hard to know the fish are there and not be able to fish. It makes your mouth water."

Black said he encourages soldiers to try their hand at the Iraqi lake, even if they've never fished before. "We had a sergeant in here today who had never gone," Black said. "He went out there and caught a crab. He just had a few minutes after he got off shift last night. There's no telling what you'll catch out of that lake."

Black himself caught an impressive 38-inch long fish of unknown species a few months ago. He stressed that soldiers should not eat fish from the lake.

(Army Spc. Andy Miller is assigned to the 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Sgt. 1st Class Suree Valenzuela, the supply sergeant for 1st Cavalry Division's headquarters company, throws a line at Camp al-Tahreer in Baghdad. The man-made lake was once part of Saddam Hussein's private hunting reservation, and has since become one of the largest overseas American military bases built since the Vietnam War. Sporting goods companies from Alabama have donated more than 500 pounds of fishing equipment to soldiers stationed there. Photo by Spc. Andy Miller, USA  
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