Feb 21-24 – Neil Carret, a MarineBassAngler coalition member, was chosen to accompany the ArmyBassAnglers ProStaff to the Bassmaster Classic as an all expense paid trip. He was chosen due to his countless volunteer hours and unwavering dedication to the ArmyBassAngler efforts to raise money and awareness for the three non-profit Wounded Soldier organizations they support, Returning Heroes Home, Veterans Outdoors, and heroes on the Water. The trip included spending time at the Expo that always accompanies the tournament and weigh-ins, working with the rest of the team to promote the charities and the team’s sponsors, hanging out in their sponsor’s booths, rubbing elbows with many of the top personalities in the industry (and as it turns out, Neil has a little personality of his own), and driving one of the ArmyBassAngler’s American Flag wrapped Skeeter Boats as part of the launch activities. Neil’s boat not only would carry the American Flag for the National Anthem, but he would soon be a part of carrying Wounded Soldiers for the festivities. Let’s just say Neil was more than excited in the days and weeks leading up to the event as continuously posted about on Facebook. If his friends did not know what he was about to do, they obviously have him blocked. Following is Neil’s account of his experience, with a few editorial comments to add some validity (after all, he is a Marine). As a side note, everyone should understand that there is some fun jabbing that goes on between the anglers on the team that represent all branches of the Armed Services, evidenced on the recent airing of the second season of Force on Force on the World Fishing Network. This article is being written to uphold that tradition.
On February 21, 0400 hours, I began my journey to Tulsa. I arrived at my first checkpoint, the New Orleans airport for my flight to St Louis. At 11:30, I arrived at my second checkpoint where I was to link up with Jeff Foley(ArmyBassAnglers) and Tom Inmon (MarineBassAnglers). They were coming from Phoenix. The Army is very accustomed to arriving to their destinations on Air Force aircraft, but we Marines do not go anywhere without being ferried by the Navy. So I was quite relieved when we all managed to affect a link up in St Louis…thank God for Jeff and his Army experience. However, thanks to a terrible winter storm blanketing the entire Midwest, our flight to Oklahoma was cancelled. In true Marine Corps fashion (but really because I know no strangers) I was able to adapt, overcome, and formulate a plan. I started talking to a nice lady that was also on her way Tulsa, going home from a business trip. She mentioned that she was determined to get home no matter what and was going to rent a car and drive it. It really sounded like she spent some time in the Army with that can-do attitude. When she offered, we jumped at the chance to ride along with her. Our duties included grabbing our gear at the luggage terminal and meet her where she’d be waiting with the car. The road conditions were horrible with snow, ice, rain, and white outs, but we set out on the journey. Nothing would stop us from achieving our objective, the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. We pulled into our rally point almost 12 hours later with an appreciation for her that we cannot express in words. It was just an example that we have seen throughout our lives, especially in our military careers, of just how awesome people can be. On day one of the classic, I worked the ArmyBassAngler booth at the Expo. Everyone I met was very generous of their time and interest in what we were doing there in support of the charity organizations. We raised a great deal of awareness and money. I also got to walk around to spend time with the many great sponsors of our organization that even make it possible for us to attend events like this one. Day two was going to be a test though. It started when I woke to the smell of coffee already being brewed at 0300 hours by Chad Nelson, ArmyBassAngler and fellow boat launch participant. We left for the ramp a short time later and launched the boat at 0400 hours. It was 19 degrees with a stiff breeze blowing. We may be military members, but that doesn’t mean we have to like or even know how to deal with those type conditions any better than anyone else. The only difference is we often have to whether we want to or not. In this case, we wanted to and it was worth every blistering minute we had to spend in it.
At 0645 a.m., we were put into position to have the American Flag directly in front of the hundreds of spectators in place to watch the anglers blast off. The National Anthem was played promptly at 0700 hours and it never fails to remind me just how blessed we are in this country to enjoy the freedoms we have, but also the sacrifices of the many that made it all possible. It was then time to load the boat and make the 90 mile trip back to the Expo where we continued to enjoy the crowds and conversation. The plan was the same for the final day of the tournament. Day 3 was just a bit different, though. After launching the boat, we were greeted by fellow MarineBassAngler coalition member Mark Lassagne and publisher of Bass Angler Magazine. He asked if he could hitch a ride with us to get some photos of the event. Even though it wasn’t a Navy vessel, we agreed to give him a ride. We were then asked by B.A.S.S. officials if we would allow a wounded Soldier and his service dog to ride on the boat. Well, that was an easy “yes.” Chad agreed that four might make the boat a little crowded and stepped onto the bank while we moved out to board the special guests. It turns out, he was a wounded Marine. It was a great feeling that we had completely taken over this vessel. It was truly an enjoyable time to be a part of such a huge event and be able to share it with a member of the Marine Corps that had sacrificed so much in honor of the Flag that blew in the wind on the back of the boat. After that, we loaded up and headed to the Expo for the final time. It was an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life and eagerly wait until I can do it again. I got to shake hands with legends in this sport, talk with hundreds of devoted fans of the sport, and spend time with my fellow military brothers and we are all tied together because of service to the country and our love of bass fishing. It was definitely a weekend where I thought about how cool it is to be an American. I would like to recognize all of the ArmyBassAnglers’ sponsors. Without them, we would not have the opportunity to share our mission!