veterans two thumbs up

Dale Mills, left, and Steve Hart were among the veterans who enjoyed last weekend's fishing excursion. It was the third year for the annual event, and organizers are working to expand it in both size and frequency.

PICKWICK LAKE • A desire to help their nation and their fellow man leads many to follow the path of service in the military, on fire departments, on ambulance crews and more.

For Mitch Harrison, of Dorsey, a desire to offer tangible thanks to those who have risked themselves through service leads him and a group of friends to host a fishing weekend every fall.

Open to veterans and first responders, the weekend is an opportunity to say thank you through more than the spoken word alone.

“I always regretted not serving in the military,” Harrison says. “When I was that age, it seemed like it wasn’t an important thing, other than just a way to get a job and go to work. After I got older, I realized what I’d missed out on. I realized I had missed out on part of doing my part. This fishing weekend is just a way to say, “Thank you,” and to give a little bit back to people who’ve contributed to the community, who’ve tried to make our lives better.

“These guys are the reason why my friends and I can do what we’re doing. They’re why we have the opportunities and freedoms we do. They’ve kept us safe through their service overseas. They keep us safe here in our communities and in our homes.

“They’ve done their part and I just felt like the fishing weekend was something my friends and I could do to show them appreciation.”

Harrison is an avid and active fisherman with a network of friends who are passionate about the same. In this its third year, the weekend hosted eight veterans and first responders for a weekend of camping, fishing, eating and fun.

Harrison and a crew that included Michael and David Cates, Scott Lewis, Chris Jenkins, Chris Estes and Steve Hughes provided campers for the guests as a place to stay, piloted bass boats taking guests to fish or both.

The weekend included campfire fellowship Thursday and Friday nights, fishing Friday and Saturday mornings and a great steak dinner in between. Along with catching lots of fish — the four boats averaged a haul of around 25 fish each day each — the guys got to spend casual time around others with similar experiences.

“It means a lot to get to spend time with other veterans,” said Dale Mills, who served 40 years full time in the Mississippi National Guard. “Some of the guys I’d never met. Some of them I knew very well but hadn’t seen since I retired. By the end of the weekend, we were all a very tight bunch.

“It was great to be able to get together and talk about old times. Mitch is working to grow the annual event, and I’m definitely looking forward to doing it again next year.”

“There’s a special bond between veterans,” said Jimmy Hall who, like Mills, spent 40 years in the Mississippi National Guard and did multiple tours of duty in war zones around the world. “Even among veterans who might not know each other, it’s like spending time with your best friends, because you’ve all had to deal with and encounter the same things. It’s a brotherhood.

“We really appreciate the chance to get together and the generosity Mitch and his friends showed in hosting us. It’s nice, with everything that’s going on today, it’s nice to know there are still people who’ll do that.”

For many like Hall and Mills, years in the service came about, in part, as a matter of doing what they felt was their duty, both as an American and as a responsible adult.

“I decided to join the Army because I wanted to serve, but I also wanted to pick up a skill,” says Steve Hart, a Chief Warrant Officer with 30 years of service and counting. He still serves full time and works at Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Ala. “I enjoyed working on vehicles, so I was a mechanic by trade and wound up working on helicopters.

“Every time I worked on something, I started with something broken and finished with it working. As a crew chief, I also got to fly on the aircraft I’d worked on, so it proved to be especially satisfying and rewarding, getting to see the product working once you were done working on it.

“The fellowship with others in the service is very special, and getting to come to an event like this past weekend’s was just outstanding. The fellowship we gained from it is something we’ll always have.”

Harrison is interested in growing the event. If you’d like to attend or if you’d like to help in any way, you can text him at 662-231-5847 to learn more.

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