Back in 2006, Bob Candopoulos and his friend Keith Manternach witnessed an antiwar protest while at a conference in Reno, Nev. Infuriated by what they saw, the two men – one a charter boat captain and the other a truck and auto shop owner – were spurred on to create what is now a yearly, and much anticipated, event: the annual Armed Services Combat Fishing Tournament.
This year’s eighth annual event is set for May 22 in Seward, and once again any enlisted (E1-E5), active duty, Guard or Reserve member can attend if they meet the eligibility requirements.
“We don’t know if they are selected by merit, or it’s a scheduling thing – we leave it totally up to (military decision makers),” said Manternach. “These are the guys making $20,000, $30,000 tops – most of them could never afford a trip like this and maybe don’t even have the transportation to get down there. We want it to be a real thank-you to them.”
The annual event could not be held without the support of Seward’s charter boat operators, who volunteer their time and effort for the event. As of press time, this year’s sponsoring charters include Alaska Northern Outfitters, Alaskan Summertime Charters, Alaska Saltwater Charters, Aurora Charters, Che’nai Charters, Saltwater Safari Co., Seward Alaska Resort, Pro Fish-n-Sea Charters, Marv’s Charters, Inn and Out Charters, Captain Nick’s Sportfishing, Le Sea Charters, Seward Fishing Club and Swelltime Charters.
The first year hosted 66 armed service members, and this year, the annual event should host about 250, Manternach said. Each year, it gets more popular and each year the level of thanks from the community grows. Bus transportation is included, and the American Legion wraps up the day with a full-spread banquet. The deep-sea fishing tournament is now the largest military appreciation fishing tournament in the United States.
“I have no idea what’s going on out there as far as other fishing tournaments,” Manternach said. “But for the guys we’re entertaining – the E1s through E5s – I don’t doubt a bit that we’re that big.
We’re not looking to gain anything from this event, we’re only looking to tell them thank-you.”
The event is co-sponsored through the Armed Services YMCA. For details, go to thankthem.org or contact Buddy Whitt at 552-9622 or firstname.lastname@example.org.