More than 20 warriors and accompanied guests participated in the 3rd Operation Bass Warrior fishing tournament November 6, in Clewiston, Florida.
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) communications branch (J6) chief, Thomas Loftis, a former Clewiston resident and retired Marine, organized the event with a network of friends and family as a way of giving back to those who served and sacrificed.
“As a veteran, you shouldn’t just stop when you’re done with the military. There are a lot of things you can do for your brothers and sisters,” said Loftis. “This tournament isn’t much, but for me and the town I think it’s really impactful.”
The Wounded Warrior Project and the Florida-specific Operation Outdoor Freedom referred eligible veterans to the tournament providing them the opportunity to experience something outside their norm, meet and connect with fellow veterans, and enjoy the natural beauty of Florida’s largest freshwater lake.
Boat captains and local anglers from Clewiston and the greater Lake Okeechobee area donated their time and boats to accompany a warrior and guest out on the lake for a day of competitive fishing.
A banquet on the eve of the tournament featured fine eats generously donated by local businesses and the city.
Roland Martin, a Hall of Fame fisherman and Clewiston local, joined the warriors for dinner and was a guest speaker. An Army veteran himself, Martin took pictures and signed autographs. He donated special artificial lures to go in the gift bags.
Boats ventured out on to the lake from Roland Martin’s Marina early the next day where participants located and caught fish. Upon return, each warrior weighed their five best catches for a chance to win a prize.
“The tournament was great, but Sunday wasn’t even about fishing to us,” said Joshua Acree, a tournament fisherman who was paired with a Gulf War veteran. “It felt good to take the time, not for myself to fish, but for the happiness of someone you’ve never met, who fought for our country and the very freedoms we often take for granted.”
More than 100 fish were weighed in by warriors and guests, with hundreds more caught and released. Moreover, the tournament provided a day of camaraderie for veterans and fisherman.
“The tournament gives [veterans] a chance to get out. Some who are disabled might not work, so it gives them a chance to get out and experience something outside of their four walls at home,” Loftis said. “It allows them to experience something they might not have before, like being out on Lake Okeechobee. Fishing to me is a medicine in so many ways. It helps you forget everything else that’s going on around you.”
“Tom Loftis has dedicated his life to serving our Nation as a Marine and now as one of our Branch Chiefs. What he does for the branch and the Command is vital and requires expertise and commitment,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Henry Montoya, Senior Enlisted Leader, U.S. Central Command J6 directorate. “It doesn’t surprise me that his commitment and selflessness go beyond what he does here day in and day out.”