Gone fishin': Afghan vets set sail from Bay St. Louis

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - Members of the 287th Combat Engineer Company traded their machine guns for rods and reels Monday morning.

The Mississippi National Guard unit based in Lucedale returned home last month after a year long deployment in Afghanistan. Seven Hancock County charter boat captains wanted to say thanks to the soldiers for their service to our nation with a free fishing trip.

Members of the 287th combat Engineer Company worked as a team on the battlefields of Afghanistan. But when the battle is for landing the biggest fish, it's every man for himself. "I'm the only real fisherman on this boat , obviously I caught the only fish so far which was a catfish. It's me one these two guys zero," said Brock Christian of the 287th Engineering Company.

Gordon Cowart, also with the 287th, said, "This is the winning boat. We'll prove it to them when we pull back up to the dock."

Who will snag the biggest fish became a friendly but fierce competition. "At this point I'd just like to catch something." said Sgt. Eric Reilly.

Christian remarked, "It's a good time, it's better than being in Afghanistan."

While in Afghanistan, the National Guard unit was responsible for combing the landscape for improvised explosive devices.  The fishing boat captains felt they deserved stress relief because of all they went through on their missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a very healthy way to bring about some kind of peace in their lives," said Jeanne "Granny" Graeser. She's a member of the National Soldier's Angels program, who along with the Coastal Conservation Association helped to organize this fishing trip. "This is awesome!" said Sgt. Robbie Brown.

Seven Hancock County charter boat captains jumped at the chance to help, donating their time and vessels to the cause.  "Freedom, isn't free and it's because of guys like this we can sit out here today and do this without somebody telling us we can't," explained charter boat captain Tony Mallini.

Sonny Schindler of Shore Thing Charters echoed his words.  "I wanted to say thank you!  The only way I really knew how take these guys fishing," Schindler said.

The soldiers were very appreciative. "It's nice that these folks would do this for us," said Sgt. Reilly.

And now members of the 287th have fishing tales to share instead of war stories.

Following a morning of fishing, the soldiers were treated to an afternoon fish-fry lunch paid for by the Waveland Walmart.