Honoring all branches of the armed forces, the 14th annual Warriors on the Water (WOW) military appreciation bass fishing tournament took place May 10, on Jordan Lake in Apex, North Carolina.

This day-long event of camaraderie and competition paired 144 co-angler Soldiers with boaters, ranging from touring professionals to weekend fishermen. East coast anglers from Pennsylvania to Florida, supported the WOW mission by donating their time and equipment for the event.

“I served 22 years in the Army, and always think it is great to give back,” said Mike Green, president of WOW. “Fishing is a hobby, but it is also so much more than that. I know what the Soldiers go through on a day-to-day basis … having served in many places around the world, 15 different countries on three different continents. The overarching mission is to say thank you for a job well done … to get Soldiers away from their day-to-day grind, let them relax and enjoy the outdoors.”

Beginning at the New Hope Boat Ramp launch at 7 a.m., anglers and their assigned service members secured their position in the water. Chaplain (Maj.) Jeff Masengale, led a prayer and the singing of the national anthem followed. The All Veterans Group and All Veteran Parachute Team (AVPT) provided a demonstration at the event with a helicopter fly-over and two AVPT parachuters, Mike Elliott and Luke Conner, performing a smoke show and American flag display fly-in.

With an objective to capture the largest fish in weight, the 288 fishermen set out at an average speed of 65 mph in their bass fishing boats to achieve the goal.

Green expressed his commitment to the organization that “continuously pays it forward,” appreciating service members and veterans who stand in the gap to defend the nation’s freedom.

“I have been with the organization since 2008,” Green said. “I used to fish as a boater. I was still active duty and I would come out here and take a Soldier fishing. In 2010, I became president.”

Founded in 2006, WOW began as a nonprofit organization supporting the wellbeing and mental health of active-duty service members and veterans. According to the organization’s leadership and mission statement, WOW understands the sacrifice of military members and the statistics reinforcing they are among the highest risk for suicide, depression, homelessness and post-traumatic stress disorder. WOW established itself as a refuge and community for military members and their Families to cultivate connections and to receive positive experiences. This organization realized it had a unique opportunity to take military members out of the typical command structure on post by getting them out on the water in cathartic settings.

Balancing their full-time jobs with their service for the organization, committee members arrive at the early hours of the event morning to assist in preparation of tent set-up, parking lot organization, tables and seating, food, event bag arrangement, fish tackle assembly and registration.

“People don’t often understand the commitment behind the scenes,” said David Blanton, vice president and tournament director of WOW. “We start prepping 10 months out from the event. The organization requires dedication to make it last and be successful every year.”

Awards, prizes and an event social supported by various sponsors were offered to the participants at the conclusion of the event. Awards were distributed to the top 15 overall ranking boaters. The official big bass weigh-in resulted in a first place finish for boater Zach Hall and his co-angler Spc. Michael Provencher, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. They reeled in five bass at a total weight of 24.02 pounds, and the largest fish weighing in at 8.02 pounds.

“We hope to see this event continue on next year, and continue to grow,” Green said. “The future is uncertain, due to the financial expectations and volunteer contributions. But we hope to see it through. A lot of these Soldiers come out here and escape. It gives them purpose. It is special to us (committee members) too.”