In July 2 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Reporter
The peaceful morning waters of Lake Cumberland are a far cry from the gunfire and the extreme heat of the Middle East or the following of military commands so many of our troops have been used to the past nine years.
"This is just what we needed," said Specialist Travis Smock, one of nine U.S. troops that visited the lake this weekend as part of Operation Thank You, as he sat and relaxed aboard Capt. Tim Tarter's striper fishing boat on Sunday morning.
Lake Cumberland was host to the special outing over the weekend as the active duty troops received a free day of fishing courtesy of Operation Thank You Inc., a non-profit organization, and local striper guides.
The Indiana and Ohio-based troops had previously spent time in both war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan and just recently returned from their deployments.
The Lake Cumberland fishing trip offered them the first time to get back together as a unit since reaching American soil, and they took advantage of the offer.
Matt Eggers, donations coordinator for the Indiana Operation Thank You chapter organized the event.
"We really enjoyed the weekend," said Staff Sgt. Troy Craft of Greendale, Ind. "We really needed a break and this was perfect."
Craft said once word got out about the event, more troops would definitely make the trip if another event like this one is held.
Fishing guides who took part in the event included Phil Glass of Conley Bottom Guide Service, Gene Collins and David Bishop, Les and Carol Frizzell of Striper Mania Guide Service, Don Chappell of DC Guide Service, and Tim Tarter of Nancy Guide Service, according to Eggers.
The guides picked the troops up from State Dock on Sunday morning at daylight before heading out to try and catch some of Lake Cumberland's signature fish, the striper.
"We've had people do a lot of nice things for us," Smock said. "But we've never had anything like this. The hospitality has been great and everyone has been so courteous to us."
The troops were housed Saturday night in two top-notch houseboats at State Dock, according to Eggers. He said Gov. Steve Beshear's office and Ky. Commissioner of Parks Gerry van der Meer helped them in finding a place to stay for the weekend.
Eggers said with the help of State Dock's Jim Sears, the two houseboats were obtained for the troops
"I think they've kind of spoiled us (with the trip,)" Craft said. "It'll take a lot more to outdo what was given to us on this trip."
The nine troops that made the trip down had all been in Iraq and Afghanistan together, some on 12-15 month deployments.
The time on the lake with the striper guides allowed the troops to talk about their experiences. From Fallujah to Baghdad to the mountainous regions of Afghanistan, the soldiers reminisced about the memories they had made. From horrific scenes they'll never forget to the courageous acts of survival and defense, the soldiers told of their time abroad.
"When you go over there, you think you know what to expect and what you're going to see," Smock said. "You have no idea, it is totally different than what you see on the news."
The troops told of the battles they faced against the foreign human enemy as well as the battle against foreign enemies of the animal kingdom. Camel spiders, scorpions, snakes and other insects and animals also wreaked havoc on American troop base camps.
Not only did they have to deal with all of this, many of them left behind families, spouses and children, to go represent this country and fight for its freedom.
"My youngest son, who's eight, has only seen me around half of his life so far," Craft said.
Eddie Moore, park manager at Lake Cumberland State Resort Park and a fellow veteran, said he was happy to provide them a complementary lunch buffet on Sunday afternoon after they returned from their fishing trips.
Moore said he was happy to be part of such an event and jumped at the opportunity to support American troops.
Operation Thank You is a 100 percent charitable non-profit organization, according to Eggers.
All of the group's donations are given in full back to the troops.
The organization receives special requests directly from Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio troops stationed in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and the wounded soldiers in the Iraqi hospital of Qatar.
The organization has it set up to where the soldiers can contact us directly via phone, Internet e-mail or text messaging, he said.
Operation Thank you was founded in 2004 by Carol Alexender in Mason, Ohio while the Indiana chapter was founded by Tim and Sue Nobbe.
Operation Thank You, Inc. is a non-profit organization with a tax exempt classification and all donations are tax-deductible. There are no membership fees or dues for membership.