By Rachel Siford
St. James was swimming with activity on Sunday as the Soldiers on the Sound fishing tournament hit the waters.
From 15 boats and 25 soldiers participating in 2009, to 57 boats and 135 soldiers this year, Soldiers on the Sound Ltd. has been thanking active military members every year with consistent growth and success.
Soldiers on the Sound is a military charity and fishing tournament for active service men and women, organized to honor and give back to those who are in the military.
At the event’s beginning, Mark Garry, president and founder of Soldiers on the Sound Ltd, got off his boat after a day of fishing and relaxing at the Smithtown Bay Yacht Club and saw news coverage of the war, seeing soldiers overseas laying in the sand using their helmets as pillows, and thought that he should do something to thank them for protecting his freedom.
He said he decided a fishing tournament was the way to go, because that is how he relaxes. Garry was then a Nassau County Homicide Detective.
“This is a very satisfying event to put on,” Garry said. “You can’t find anyone without a smile on their face.”
The event includes a fishing tournament, food, entertainment and raffles at Smithtown Bay Yacht Club, all paid for completely from donations. This year they raised about $13,000. Soldiers do not have to do anything. Local boat owners donate the boats.
Individuals and companies make the donations. Simrad Marine Electronics and C.E. Smith Company Inc. were major contributors.
“Soldiers bring nothing and walk out of there with new TVs and trips to Florida,” Garry said. “Soldiers leave in disbelief, because it’s hard for them to grasp the fact that there’s no catch.”
Soldiers are mainly local to Long Island and work out of the airbase in the Hamptons, but many come from all over.
Ed Reiter, retired command chief master sgt. of the 106 Rescue Wing, Air National Guard, serves as the liaison.
“What the soldiers do is unbelievably generous,” Reiter said. “A lot of the soldiers are overwhelmed by the generosity and support.”
Jake DeLeo, a 16-year-old first mate, caught the winning fish, weighing more than six pounds, with help from Staff Sgt. Chris Arrigo from the 106th Rescue Wing, and his captain Tony Voelker.
“This event is really cool; it’s great what they do for the soldiers,” Deleo said. “The fish was big and flat, so it wouldn’t go in the net. I had to turn it sideways to finally get it in. Then we saw the rigging was stretched out and they could have lost the fish! The fish was so big they had to put it another cooler.”
It was both Voelker and DeLeo’s first year participating in Soldiers on the Sound.
Skip Hein is the only founding member of Soldiers on the Sound with a military background. He is a retired senior master sergeant who served in the U.S. Air Force and New York Air National Guard.
“Back in Vietnam, the public wasn’t really supportive of the military, so it’s just natural that I’d want to show my thanks to the military now,” Hein said.