I got the idea to take veterans out fishing during the spring of 2007. Though I had participated in many work-related fundraisers to support our troops, I wanted to do something on a more personal level to thank our veterans for their service. A conversation with my father, an army vet, led me to wonder if taking service members out fishing might provide a well-deserved physical and psychological respite. After making some inquiries and investigating other programs, we decided to follow through and see if we could make it happen.
With the aid of friends and colleagues Master Sergeant Cliff Potter and Staff Sergeant Robert Hibson, we were able to get things moving during the fall of 2007. It took 12 months of meetings and phone calls, but by the summer of 2008 our 'flagship', the Black Mariah, was permitted, inspected, insured, and ready to go. One final logistical stumbling block - a place from which to run our trips - was resolved when West Cove Marina in West Haven, CT, took us in when our marina (the last public one in our area) was sold to a private yacht club. Thank you West Cove!
Once in our new home, trip planning began in earnest. I met regularly with Gabor Kautzner, of the New Haven Veterans Center, throughout the spring of 2009 to work through all the logistics of running the trips. I am very grateful to Captain Pat Juliano, widely recognized as one of the most knowledgeable charter captains on Long Island Sound, who volunteered to assist. Mike Pollio, colleague and friend, offered to act as first mate. After two long years, we finally got off the dock with our first group of young veterans, all recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, on July 7, 2009. It was a great trip - the fish hit regularly and everyone had an opportunity to reel in a "keeper". It was tremendously rewarding to be able to thank the veterans personally for their service, and to watch them relax and enjoy themselves on the boat. We enjoyed the experience so much that we did seven additional trips before the end of the season, all at no cost to the veterans.
Once we had time to reflect on our experience, we realized we wanted to be able to offer this opportunity to more veterans in more places. Consequently, the idea for VA Charters was born. One boat working alone would limit the trips to local veterans only. On the other hand, many captains working out of multiple ports would allow many more veterans the chance to spend time out on the water. At this time (the end of the 2013 season) we have expanded to 3 states: Black Mariah in CT, Fire Escape Charters in Plymouth, MA, and River Rebel Charters in Bristol , RI. Though much of our time is spent raising funds and establishing relationships with veteran groups and organizations, we were nonetheless able to conduct a total of 27 free fishing trips for veterans in our tri-state area this past season. We look forward to providing our service to even more vets in 2014. Fishin' is indeed our mission. Ultimately, our goal is to create a national network of the very best charter boat captains, whose goal it will be to serve those who've served us.
Captain Kathy Granfield