On the surface, it’s no different from any other fishing tournament along the shores of Lake Michigan; the drinks are as cold as the lake and just as endless, the burgers are cooked to your liking (so long as you like yours medium), and no matter how well the fish are biting, there’s usually an unlucky fisherman or two stowing an unused cooler at the end of the day.
But as any one of those anglers will tell you, there’s always much more happening beneath the surface.
“A lot of these veterans are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder,” says Denny Kuenzer, a recent Martin Marietta retiree who has volunteered with Tight Lines for Troops for the past six years. “But I’ve seen how this helps.
“They get together and before they know it, they’re talking about what they’ve experienced. They’re networking and making sure each has the right information. It’s shocking how many veterans don’t get access to the help they need.”
Tight Lines for Troops fishing boats return from Lake Michigan to great fanfare.
Offered free to Michigan’s veterans, Tight Lines for Troops is an annual event held on the third weekend of May. Injured and disabled veterans, as well as those who served during World War II and the Korean War, are given preference, but all military men and women are welcome to apply.
This year, more than 300 veterans were selected to fish on the water. Scores of others fished from the land. Several hundred friends, family and caregivers attended in support and enjoyed dinner that Saturday.
Near the weekend’s close, as 60 boats paraded slowly back into the harbor, masses of people gathered to line the channel with American flags and signs of thanks. The public response, however, was not always so robust.
“When they first started doing this, the thought was to use local charter boats,” Kuenzer says, “but they struggled to get enough boats in the small town and began asking a select group of private boat owners to participate. That’s when I was approached.”
Kuenzer, an experienced fisherman who worked in the Company’s Magnesia Specialties business for 40 years before his retirement, joined the group as a volunteer boat captain and soon became involved with the nonprofit’s board of directors as a member of the host planning committee.
He says Martin Marietta, through its strong support, is one of many companies in the area that continues to help grow the event. The local community, home to a number of Company employees who volunteer privately, also deserves credit.
Despite the success, the original Tight Lines for Troops message remains intact.
“Really, it’s never been about the fishing at all,” Kuenzer says. “It’s a means to get these veterans together and show them our appreciation for what they’ve done. It’s a chance for them to open up and talk about things that they’ve never gotten to talk about with people who understand.”