Seventeen Army veterans and active-duty personnel recently had an opportunity to reunite and catch up.
“Operation Salmon” involved four days of fishing — three along the banks of the Washougal River, and one from boats in the Columbia River.
The Sept. 8 through 11 weekend of activities was sponsored by Veteran Outdoors, a national 501(c) 3 non-profit all-volunteer organization.
The mission is to honor U.S. wounded veterans’ patriotism and their sacrifice by providing quality adventures.
“The organization started [in 2008] by taking one veteran at a time out,” said Toby Nunn, of Georgetown, Texas.
He is the director of operations for Veteran Outdoors.
“There are therapeutic effects of being outdoors,” Nunn said.
Low water levels in the Washougal River resulted in a limited fish supply Thursday, Friday and Saturday. That changed Sunday when the men spent time on boats launched from the Port of Camas-Washougal marina.
Area boaters provided vessels and operators.
“Nine of our 17 veterans caught chinook on Sunday,” said retired Staff Sgt. John Kaiser, of Camas.
He took care of a lot of the planning details for the reunion weekend, and he and his wife Tina hosted dinners at their home Thursday and Friday.
Nunn was Kaiser’s squad leader when they were with the 23rd Infantry (the Tomahawks) during Kaiser’s first deployment in Iraq.
During his second tour to Iraq, the armored vehicle that Kaiser was in was hit by a mortar in October 2006. He lost his right eye, suffered multiple skull fractures, broke his jaw and took a gunshot wound to his right shoulder.
Kaiser received a Purple Heart and retired from the Army after serving for 10 years.
As the Northwest outreach coordinator for Veteran Outdoors, he takes veterans fishing all season long.
Retired Staff Sgt. Chris Byers, 33, of Puyallup, has two below knee amputations. He was injured July 7, 2012, when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
“It’s really good to see the guys again,” he said, regarding the reunion of the Tomahawks. “Back then, I was part of a tight knit group.
“There have been a lot of laughs [this weekend],” Byers added. “I think that is the best medicine ever, to be among friends and forget about your problems.”
Several of the visiting veterans stayed at the Best Western Plus Parkersville Inn & Suites, in Washougal. Wives and children participated in some of the reunion activities.
Lt. Col. Teddy Kleisner, of Greenbrier County, West Virginia, is the current commander of the Tomahawks.
Saturday, he fished with his son Colter, 10.
Kleisner’s military service has included two tours in Iraq and four tours in Afghanistan.
He said fishing is half of the purpose of the weekend.
“There is storytelling and camaraderie,” Kleisner said. “It’s a crucible experience. The process makes you whole.”
The 23rd Infantry was founded 150 years ago, in September.
“It’s almost like coming home,” Kleisner said.
The dinner Sunday was held at the American Legion Cape Horn Post 122 Hall in Washougal. It included ribs, smoked turkey, pulled pork, salad and onion rings purchased with donations from area residents and businesses.
Mayor Sean Guard did some of the grilling.
Post 122 donated the use of the venue. Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4278 sponsored a rental van for the veterans.
On the way to the dinner, Patriot Guard members provided an Honor Ride escort for the current and retired soldiers. Local citizens gathered along the streets, waving American flags and thanking the men for their service.
For more information about Veteran Outdoors, visit www.veteranoutdoors.com.