Of all the military appreciation events he has attended during his more than 20-year military career, Master Sgt. Henry Strozier said the Kenai River Wounded Warrior Event makes him the most proud.
He feels appreciated.
“The community’s giving back to the community members,” Strozier said. “It’s more than just clapping at the airport.”
At this year’s event, 125 service members arrived from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage and others from Fairbanks’ Fort Wainwright and Kentucky on Thursday and Friday to fish the Kenai River. The program provides an escape from base life and helps the service members relax, socialize and work together, said Susan DeDionisio, JBER instructional program director.
“It’s a transition,” DeDionisio said.
Base life is rigorous, said Strozier, who is stationed at JBER. Service members are constantly expected to perform, and they have to be ready at any time, he said.
The two-day opportunity allows him to release stress — as an individual.
“We put the ranks on the side,” he said.
The event is volunteer driven, said Mike Fenton, President of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association. Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, the Soldotna High School football team, fishing guides — the entire community pitches in, he said.
And that is why Strozier said he feels appreciated. From the time he steps off the bus, to the moment when they step back on, he knows that the community means it when they say “thank you,” he said.
“The people themselves came together for the event,” he said.
He said it is a role reversal, like maintaining a neighbor’s lawn every day, then one day being invited over for tea instead of being requested to water a yellow patch of grass.
“To be served is totally different,” he said.
Fenton said he sees, each time, a noticeable difference from when the service members step off the bus to when they board it to return to base. When they arrive, they are reserved, and some avoid contact, he said. But when they leave, they are more friendly and relaxed, he said.
“Just getting back into society,” Fenton said. “Getting back into the outdoors.” He said that is what does it.
For the first time in the program’s seven years running, fishing on the Kenai River was restricted to catch-and-release. But that did not matter, DeDionisio said; “they had a total blast.”
Strozier said his favorite part about the event was the picnic. There were bratwursts, hamburgers, slices of cake and scallops, among other food.
“It’s the icing on the cake,” he said.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.