Annual Take a Soldier Fishing event treats soldiers and their families to a day on the water

Throughout Sean Mello’s 20-year career in the Army Special Forces he’s seen the sun rise in many places. He has seen it rise across multiple locations in the Middle East and he’s seen it rise in Uruguay, Paraguay and Peru. But last Saturday, the first cracks of dawn’s early light seemed even more special than normal.

Surely the lazy sun creeping up and over the Ten Thousand Islands in all their morning glory is stunning enough, but for Mello, Saturday’s sunrise was a standout because of the company he kept.

Aboard a bobbing white fishing boat, Mello and his son Landon, two of the more than 80 guests that the Collier County Sheriff’s Office treated to a day of fishing during their annual Take a Soldier Fishing Event, caught up for lost time from Mello’s many deployments.

“He tries to make up with me what he didn’t get to do with my brothers,” said Landon, Mello’s youngest son.

Across the waterway, in 40 different boats, 40 similar stories unfolded.

The annual Take a Soldier Fishing tournament, which started last year when Steve Loyd, a member of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, and a few of his fishing buddies decided they wanted to take a few soldiers out, has turned into a bona fide two-day mini vacation for 80 soldiers from MacDill Air Force Base.

Kicking off last Friday with a day of golfing and continuing Saturday with the all day fishing tournament, a live auction, a helicopter flyover and a final farewell dinner, the organizers of this year’s event truly outdid themselves.

“We want them to feel like when they come to Southwest Florida, they’re going to be completely taken care of,” said organizer Loyd. He and his wife Jamie really took the reins on arraigning the weekend and turned it into a family affair. Their son Kevin helped captain a boat for the media, while daughter Brittany sold 50/50 raffle tickets.

But every member of the family was quick to point out that it was the dozens of volunteers who really made the event happen.

From captaining boats, to passing out free lunches during the tournament and even arranging for police escorts, volunteer’s efforts ensured that soldiers got the VIP treatment all weekend long.

And the soldiers, who came from all branches of the military, were truly grateful.

On another boat, Brian and Eva Passmore of Riverview, Fla., tried their hands at fishing for trout. Brian, who has been with the Marine Corps for the past 13 years, has been deployed to Iraq several times in recent years. His wife explained that, “the deployments suck, but it’s just a part of it,” adding, “But when you are together, you appreciate it more.”

For the two, who left their five kids at home, the weekend was a perfect getaway, and a chance to just be together and reconnect. Rods in hand, and lines at the ready, there was nothing to do but wait for the fish to bite, and enjoy some much-deserved rest and relaxation.

“This is the longest we’ve ever been away from our kids,” said Brian Passmore, adding, “It really is like a vacation!”

And though technically the event is a fishing tournament, as father and son team Sean and Landon Mello returned to the docks, winning wasn’t even on their minds. Landon, who got his victory beating his dad at catching the first fish of the day, was just happy to have two redfish and a trout to his name. Sean, however, was just happy to have the day to share, saying, “Being able to be here with my son, it’s just such a blessing.”

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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