Paying tribute to members of the American military for their honorable and selfless service to our country takes many forms. One such recognitions is the Soldiers on the Sound Fluke Tournament, organized by the Smithtown Bay Yacht Club, and supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 395 from Saint James, New York. The 2015 event marked the 7th annual gathering of soldiers and volunteers.
The 2015 tournament drew a total of 300 participants, including 135 active members of the military, 60 boat captains, 60 mates and 45 event volunteers, all working concert to make this the best day possible for the guest soldiers. The military members in attendance represented the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and the renowned 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard based in Westhampton. Many of the soldiers had recently returned from various deployments abroad. The “106” had the most robust turnout of personnel since it has the longest standing partnership with the tournament. Members of the Smithtown Bay Yacht club, private charter captains and mates volunteered their boats, time and fishing expertise to make this the most expansive and successful fluke tournament thus far. Many other behind-the-scenes folks, like the “Pink Ladies” volunteered their time and skills to coordinate event logistics and a magnificent clam bake, BBQ and buffet. An annual highlight of the day for all participants was an equally incredible raffle. Many fabulous prize donations were made by generous individuals, businesses and corporate sponsors from Long Island and beyond.
It was my honor to once again participate in the event and serve as mate aboard Captain Adrian Mason’s boat, Big Trouble. Two distinguished members of the 106th Rescue Wing joined with us for the day’s fishing activities: Master Sergeant Shawn Burke and Chief Master Sergeant John Bellissimo. These two seasoned military veterans are also seasoned anglers who are quite adept at catching fluke. One of the team’s keeper fluke was a contender for the day’s weigh-in. The winning fish was caught by 16 year old first mate Jake DeLeo with much assistance by Staff Sgt. Chris Arrigo from the 106th Rescue Wing, Air National Guard and his captain Tony Voelker. It was both Jake and Chris’ first year participating in Soldiers on the Sound.
The Soldiers on the Sound Fluke Tournament was the brainchild of Kings Park resident, Mark Garry, President and Founding Member, Soldiers on the Sound Ltd. Garry felt a need to honor members of our armed forces who are currently serving our country. Along with his incredible team of volunteers he took his vision from a seed of an idea and turned it into reality, organizing and running one of the most successful events of its kind anywhere in the United States. From the start, the Smithtown Bay Yacht Club and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 395 from Saint James signed on to make this event an instant success that has only gotten bigger and better in subsequent years. An army of “Pink Ladies” volunteers also worked tirelessly and selflessly to orchestrate the logistics of food service and raffle prizes.
Garry also serves as Tournament Director and he has continually said: “This event is a small token of appreciation for all that the U.S. military does so that we can all enjoy our freedoms and life in the greatest country on earth. We can never repay you enough for all that you do for us and for your courage and skills.”
While the initial event seven years ago was a tremendous success, the 2015 tournament sets the bar even higher. All soldiers and civilian participants were treated to a pre-tournament breakfast, a hearty barbeque upon their return from fishing, live music and a hot food buffet as the extensive raffle was conducted. It seemed as if prizes were being handed out non-stop for hours: fishing rod and reel outfits, gift bags, gift certificates and hand-crafted products The top prizes were kayaks, flat screen TVs, internet tablets, and BBQs. There were rounds of applause, pats on the backs, and smiles aplenty; and the soldiers returned to their bases with gear bags heavier than when they arrived.
Beyond the fishing, the food, the prizes and the camaraderie of the event, one soldier’s comment struck home. During one of the idle moments in an otherwise very active day, Chief Master Sergeant John Bellissimo turned to me and said, “You cannot imagine how much an event like this means to the entire base. Even those soldiers who did not attend will be talking about this for weeks. What matters most of all this is that we know people here on Long Island care about what we do. We are already looking forward to next year.”