Abe Hawkins, Shawn Holmes, Tom Day and Brad Derting enjoy the Day of Honor with Salmon for Soldiers at the Port of Everett in 2019. The event saw more than 125 volunteer boaters and more than 400 veterans out fishing at the event, Mark Ostroot said. Photo courtesy of Sequim Chapter of Salmon for Soldiers

Abe Hawkins, Shawn Holmes, Tom Day and Brad Derting enjoy the Day of Honor with Salmon for Soldiers at the Port of Everett in 2019. The event saw more than 125 volunteer boaters and more than 400 veterans out fishing at the event, Mark Ostroot said. Photo courtesy of Sequim Chapter of Salmon for Soldiers

For their service: Locals join state effort to honor veterans with free fishing trips

For a couple of years, Mark Ostroot knew these fishing trips he and friends have offered were pretty popular.

So in mid-June, when a 20-plus-year veteran drove 2,200 miles from the middle of Kansas (with a short stop to pick up a buddy in Colorado Springs, Colo.) over three days to take part in the next trek into the Pacific for some halibut, it was both a surprise and par for the course.

After the trip, Ostroot said, “we might as well have been siblings.”

The excursions, held each summer since 2019 for veterans to enjoy some deep sea salmon or halibut fishing via the Sequim chapter of Salmon for Soldiers, a quasi-formal version of a statewide group, became a way for Ostroot and other volunteers to say thanks to both active and retired military personnel, taking “the prime of their lives” to defend the rights of others.

“Now that I can afford it, let me say thanks to you, guys,” Ostroot said.

Veterans enjoy being out on the boat not just for the fish — and there are plenty of those, Ostroot noted — but to connect with other veterans with whom they may feel more comfortable sharing their lives.

“The more that we do this, the less it’s about fishing. These are lifelong friendships.”

Based in Union, Wa., Salmon for Soldiers started in 2013 when two friends decided to take a few veteran friends fishing, and the popularity has grown into a full-fledged nonprofit that hosts an annual Day of Honor with more than 800 veterans and guests in attendance.

That’s where, in 2019, Ostroot and other peninsula fishing friends connected with the organization. It became an annual event for them, and it sparked the idea of starting their own veterans-directed outfit on the peninsula.

“I always thought it was a big deal to be involved,” Ostroot said in June. “what I found out was, (it’s) just as simple as take veterans fishing.

“I was so thankful being introduced, otherwise we’d just be fishing.”

And what better setting than the Northwest corner of the contiguous United States?

Treks are sometimes 40 miles round-trip, using what Ostroot said is some pretty impressive gear. And it isn’t unheard of to have all six people in the boat hooked on halibut at the same time.

“These are pristine spots people don’t have access or gear to (normally get to),” he said.

It’s a rain-or-shine deal but the group only had to cancel once this year because of poor weather, he noted.

“I feel like we have a ton to offer in terms of fishing outdoors and relaxation,” Ostroot said. “It’s also a great spot in that there’s a lot (of veterans), with the Coast Guard base, retired, (bases at) Bremerton and Bangor.”

Ostroot said he’s worn a bracelet for years with the number 22 — referring to the number of suicides per day by American military veterans, active duty, National Guard and reserves, according to a United States Department of Veteran Affairs study released in 2012.

“It’s a crazy number, it’s just staggering … so, how can we impact that number south?” Ostroot said.

“It’s hard to go get through their comments afterward without tearing up. Guys who are struggling … and some guys do a better job at hiding that damage.”

Sequim’s Salmon for Soldiers group has about a core group of volunteers including Dan Goettling, Toby Pritchett and his son Zach, Ostroot and others. That core and others helped more than three-dozen veterans get free fishing trips in 2021 and they hope to serve about 65 at a special fishing trip and barbecue in Sekiu this August.

The group recently started a GoFundMe for the program, looking to increase what they did in 2021 — fishing at least once a week for the two-month summer halibut season (every Thursday in May and June), a flurry of fishing to make up for the lost 2020 season to COVID — with two fishing days per week, each Thursday and Saturday.

With an overall goal of $10,000 and about 200 veterans served, the funds would also help pay for another two-day event in Sekiu in August 2022.

Funds raised will offset fishing trip expenses, Ostroot said, and while the group volunteers aren’t making any money the trips aren’t cheap. Salmon for Soldiers doesn’t charge anything for the use of the boat, electronic gear or custom rods, fuel, bait and ice. Sometimes a veteran will want to help out, Ostroot said, but the funds just wind up back into the fund for the next trip.

Charter-style trips like these would normally cost about $450 per person, Ostroot said.

“They go home with a vacuum-sealed halibut or ling cod,” he said.

On the expenses side, the organization likes to run a tight ship, so to speak, trying to come in around $500 for the day trips each, all costs told. All gear is donated and there are no paid staffers in the group, members note.

“We’re super conscientious on how we spend money,” Ostroot said.

Any funds spent are worth it, he said, as he and other volunteers enjoy seeing veterans connect with each other out on the boats.

“There’s something special happens pretty much every single trip,” Osroot said.

Check out Salmon for Soldiers Sequim’s GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/f/double-our-efforts.

For more about Salmon for Soldiers, see the Sequim chapter’s facebook page at facebook.com/SequimSalmon4Soldiers and salmonforsoldiers.com.

‘Double Our Efforts’

What: Fundraiser for Sequim Chapter of Salmon for Soldiers

Helps pay for: Two days per week of free fishing trips for veterans, active military, in May, June 2022, plus two-day event in August 2022

On the web: gofundme.com/f/double-our-efforts.

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