Last year, Tournament Director Jasen Gast invited Freedom Alliance to be a beneficiary of the “fastest-growing billfish tournament in Texas”: the Texas Billfish Classic (TBC). Located in Freeport, Texas, the tournament consists of a patriotic and competitive crowd; and adding an element to honor our troops was a great fit. The first year, we hosted four combat-wounded troops to a fishing getaway courtesy of the tournament, which also raised over $4,000 in cash contributions.
This year, we asked a new group of veterans to fly into Texas to experience this blue-collar town and the fun fishing excitement in the Gulf of Mexico. The troops arrived several days before the tournament kick-off to relax at a beautiful beachfront house donated by Blue Water Resort Sales & Rentals. The mayor of Freeport, Troy Brimage, donated two days of near-shore fishing on his 36’ yellowfin charter business “Prima Donna Charters”. The group of veterans consisted of:
- Steve Fantau: Marine Corps Sergeant Major Fantau was injured during the Battle of Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. He was serving as Fox Company’s First Sergeant (2d Bn, 1st Mar Div) when an IED detonated under his vehicle, killing the machine gunner and seriously wounding Steve and the three other Marines − all of whom were evacuated stateside for emergency treatment. He currently lives in North Carolina.
- Chris Nunnery: Christopher retired from the Army as a Staff Sergeant and was severely injured during Operation Iraqi Freedom when his patrol was ambushed. His door was struck with a RPG causing injuries to his face, right arm and right hand. Chris was able to remain conscious and continued to fight. After emergency care was performed at the Battalion Aid Station, Chris was sent to Landstuhl Germany and eventually to Walter Reed where he underwent multiple reconstructive surgeries.
- Darrell Knowlton: Air Force Tech Sergeant Darrell Knowlton served on three combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was recently medically retired.
- Mike Wells: Staff Sergeant Michael Wells served for over 18 years in the Army National Guard as an M1 Tank Armor Crewman. He deployed to Iraq in 2005-06 where he was wounded by numerous roadside bombs (for which he received the Purple Heart Medal). He suffers from a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The men enjoyed the exciting charter, catching their limit of king mackerel fish the first day and pursuing other species the second. Our friends at Tunaskin Aquatic Apparel treated each veteran to a customized performance fishing shirt, hat, and neck sleeve or “joker”, complete with artwork donated by marine wildlife artist Steve Goione and personalized with each veteran’s name and service logo. Costa Sunglasses also donated shirts, a hat, and a pair of their new 580 Polarized Glass sunglasses. Even if they didn’t know how to fish, they would look like they did! In fact, the troops wouldn’t wear their Tunaskin shirts out fishing because “they are too nice,” commented one veteran.
Tournament videographer Rich Christensen of RK Creative Productions donated his skills to showcase Freedom Alliance and our fishing excursion to the audience and participants of the TBC, which resulted in a standing ovation during the kick-off party.
The troops left on the first official fishing day of the tournament, and Freedom Alliance had two more veterans come in…one to receive a special gift at the conclusion of the tournament.
In Afghanistan, Marine Jacob De La Garza lost his left leg when an enemy combatant detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) as Jacob walked by on foot patrol. Jacob was then med evac’d to Germany and then to the United States where he spent a year and a half at Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego, California.
But his service to our country wasn’t defined by the wounds he sustained while fighting in Sangin, Afghanistan. Prior to that deployment, Jacob served in Iraq on three combat deployments. In 2004, the Marine Corps was tasked with house-to-house fighting to eradicate a growing insurgency in Fallujah. Not since the battle of Hue City in Vietnam had Marines been tasked with such a mission. He had just gotten married when his nation called him to arms to fight in Iraq.
Following a short stint at home, he was deployed again to a different city in Iraq. He fought bravely and helped to clear that area of an insurgency as well. This time, his return home was a little longer, but still shy of a calendar year before he was called to Iraq for the third time. Each time he returned safely, carrying out his duty, until the fourth deployment mentioned above. In all, Jacob received two Purple Hearts from fighting our nation’s enemies and earned the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medal with a “V” device for valor in combat, among other decorations.
Freedom Alliance asked Jacob to come fishing with us in Freeport, Texas, during the festivities of the Texas Billfish Classic – a billfish tournament that helps raise money for Freedom Alliance and honors our veterans by inviting us to host a group each year. On the final night of the tournament, among a crowd of around three hundred anglers, Freedom Alliance Program Officer Pepper Ailor introduced the crowd to Jacob and his respectable service in our military. As the crowd clapped and stood in his honor, Jacob was all smiles as a new mode of mobility was driven down the aisle. Thanks to a generous gift by Jerry and Peggy Schuld, long-time supporters of our military and Freedom Alliance, Jacob was presented with a brand-new all-terrain tracked wheelchair, complete with rifle case and rod holders so he can enjoy the great outdoors without limitations.
“That’s an awesome mini-tank,” said Jacob as the crowd erupted with laughter. “It’ll be perfect for my kids – there are a bunch of trails back at my home that are too long for me to walk, so I’ll definitely use that!”