Monterey, CA – On a clear Saturday morning, Vietnam Veteran Chet McAndrews is helping a group of disabled Veterans board the Chubasco. Its a 60 foot charter fishing boat, one of four boats that set out for the Monterey Bay Veterans annual Rock Cod Derby.
McAndrews, who founded the organization, has been loading and unloading the derby boats since the first derby back in 1987. "Oh my God the first one we did, none of us knew what we were doing. Working with the handicap or any of that, plus putting them on a boat. Just the milestone alone of us getting them to come here to trust us enough to put them on a boat, take them out in the ocean and go fishing was just monumental, said McAndrews.
What has also been monumental for this volunteer organization is how the program has grown. There are more than 100 disabled Veterans at this derby; at their largest they hosted 500 from throughout the West. "We've actually had to start cutting people off and saying we just don't have the room. We don't have the facilities," McAndrews added.
The Monterey Bay Veterans hold two annual fishing derbies as well as daily outings for disabled Veterans throughout the West. Over the years they have worked with Veterans from World War II to the current Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. John Whitacre is Executive Director of the Monterey Bay Veterans. "The severity of the injuries are unbelievable now. With the traumatic brain injuries because of IEDs and the weaponry that's being used against our soldiers and our equipment that's letting them survive is tremendous. But they still need to know no matter what their injury is, we can work through this." He said that's one of the reason why the program has to grow. "Every veterans hospital, every veterans home, every military hospital is packed with young soldiers now, this is the right time to be doing a recreational rehabilitation program on a national basis," said Whitacre.
So the Monterey Bay Veterans are working with organizations in at least a dozen other states to start their own fishing derbies. Air Force Veteran Jim Guglielmoni has barely missed a derby in the past ten years. He thinks other veterans will be able to benefit from sports fishing the way he has. "You're not thinking about the present. You're thinking about the past and how you were back then and maybe you're actually exceeding what you were doing back then. In some ways I am, in others ways I'm not," said Guglielmoni. "It gave me a lot more self confidence in what my abilities are. And each time I go out I find that it helps with the re-energizing and realizing that I'm not as bad off as I could be and I can still do a lot more things that I want to do," he added.
In May of next year, the champions from each state will compete on the Monterey Bay to become the First National Disabled Veteran Angler of the Year.