Last July, I had the privilege of traveling to Kodiak, Alaska to present the Coast Guard’s Chief Petty Officers Association (CPOA) our prestigious PHWFF Patriot Award. Long overdue, since their Association has been hosting 6 of our PHWFF participants for the past 8 years – all expenses paid for by the CPOA.  Boatswains mate CPO (RET) Vic Laird, has been the organizer of this event since it got started, and now having met him, I can see why the trip has been so successful. The one week stay on Kodiak brings our participants out on the salt water for halibut, ling cod, rock fish and salmon. After the first warm up day of catching those varieties, it’s time to load up on 4 wheelers and head 15 miles to the Saltery River to have a go at the migrating Sockeye Salmon. That 15 mile trip was a thrilling experience in its own right. The road, if you want to call it that, was built by the Army during World War II, since we thought Kodiak was the next stop for the Japanese in the Aleutians. That “road” hasn’t been maintained since then and you can well imagine what kind of shape it is in. I’ve developed a whole new admiration for the 4 Wheelers that navigated that road – incredible beasts.

We all made to our accommodations near the Saltery where two delightful volunteer ladies had prepared a delicious meal for the evening. Similar scrumptious  meals  were provided throughout our stay.  Our participant  veteran group, consisting of Rica Gaines, Chris Westerberg, Larry Willard, Toni Wallis, Mark Middleton, and Bill Hopkins, were ready to go for the Sockeye the next day. Vic had a slew of experienced Coast Guard Guides on hand who knew the ways of the fish and, more importantly how to catch them. They also knew how to deal with Kodiak’s ever present salmon fisher, the Kodiak Brown Bear, should the occasion arise. I might add that bears were seen, but no thrilling tales are here to be told. As mentioned, the manner in which you catch Sockeye is by “flossing” them. Sockeye run 4 or 5 LBs and love to do battle with your fly rod. Since they do not consume typical bait, and are off their feed anyway, you must catch them by pulling your fly across the water column, in their path as they swim upstream . To be legal, the fly must lodge in their jaw. Anywhere else is a foul hook and the fish must be released. After a while, you get the hang of it, and when the fish are moving (which they were most of the time), you start catching.

After 3 days of fun fishing and catching, it’s back to the Coast Guard Base, a day on the local waters, and then the Friday night farewell dinner at the Base Club. It was at that dinner I was able to recognize the incredible effort that the Coast Guard personnel have been making over the past 8 years, and personally thanking this year’s “Coasties” for the  wonderful, unforgettable experience that they provided all of us. What a great group of men and women who would devote a week of each year to help our disabled veterans heal in not to be forgotten manner. It was a most pleasurable  and rewarding experience to present the CPOA with the Patriot Award. Well Deserved!

Related: Kodiak Chief Petty Officers Association of Kodiak casts a lifeline to veterans