Airmen assist with 2009 ESPN Bassmaster Classic

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Allison Boehm
  • 2nd Bomb Wing
The 2009 ESPN Bassmaster Classic allowed several Barksdale Air Force Base Airmen to reel-in a piece of the action Feb. 20 through 22 here.

Several bass enthusiasts and the Barksdale Hawgherders Bass Club participated in the classic, which brought 137,700 people to the Shreveport, La., area for what is referred to as the Super Bowl of fishing.

Twenty Airmen arrived to the Bossier City, La., CenturyTel Center Feb. 20 to represent the armed forces during the opening of the weigh-in. To their surprise, they were included in the televised ceremony and asked to march onstage as the Barksdale AFB honor guard presented the colors.

"Having the audience roar as we march into CenturyTel Center was awesome," said Capt. Jason Simmons, assigned to the 608th Air Force Network Operations Center. "I really felt proud to be leading in Airmen from Barksdale. Afterward, we stuck around and watched weigh-ins and even my wife, Maj. Melissa Simmons, started getting excited as each angler put his bounty of five fish onto the scales."

As the servicemembers marched onto the arena floor, the entire stadium, filled with nearly 8,000 people, jumped to their feet for a standing ovation. The honor guard then followed and Senior Airman Chonte Walker, of the 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron, sang the national anthem.

"(The Barksdale AFB) team marching into the CenturyTel Center stadium was a welcome surprise. They did a masterful job, looked great, stood tall and I was very proud to see everyone there," said retired Lt. Col. Jim Kientz, the Ray Scott Outdoors executive director. "Airman Walker was a 'home run' with her national anthem and everyone was bragging about her, me in particular, all weekend."

Airman Walker sang every morning at the launch site on the bank of the Red River, despite the blistering cold, at 7:13 am. She also sang at the weigh-ins Feb. 21 and 22.

"My favorite part was just being able to use my gift to pay tribute to the flag and the United States at a nationally known tournament in front of thousands of people," she said.

Members from ESPN along with a group of their distinguished visitors had also expressed interest in visiting Barksdale AFB and the Airmen while in town. They spent Feb. 21 at the Red Chute Shotgun Sports Club on base, coordinated by Paul Williamson, the 2nd Force Support Squadron outdoor recreation manager, and had the opportunity to both shoot and talk with Airmen from various squadrons on base.

"Many Americans forget that Airmen, too, carry arms in combat, as many are doing today," said Captain Simmons, who came out to the range to meet the group. "A group of avid Airmen shooters, focused on shotgun shooting, joined the ESPN crews and gave them tips as we showed some first time shooters the tricks of the trade. It was fun teaching them as well as shooting down some clays myself."

After a few hours at the range, ESPN officials came to Barksdale AFB to see a static of a B-52 Stratofortress. Capt. Jerry Reynolds, a B-52 instructor aircraft commander from the 93rd Bomb Squadron, and a couple crew chiefs went over the capabilities of the aircraft and answered questions.

The Hawgherders also participated in all three days of the tournament.

Master Sgt. Brian Nelson, the 20th Aircraft Maintenance Unit assistant weapons flight chief and Hawgherders president, contacted the Shreveport Regional Sports Authority as soon as he found out the classic would be held in the local area and requested the opportunity to do some volunteer work.

"For the 2009 classic, seven of our members volunteered to be camera or media boat operators," Sergeant Nelson said. "All seven were selected."

While volunteering for the tournament, the Hawgherders were positioned in various locations with some being able to go out on a boat with a professional angler to serve as an official observer. Several of the volunteers also provided their own boats to be on the Red River, where the tournament was held.

"Camera boat drivers supplied their own boat and were paired with a cameraman from JM Production Company hired by ESPN," Sergeant Nelson said. "Camera boat drivers and cameramen worked together all week and followed different anglers throughout the weekend. Camera boat operators followed the anglers down to their favorite fishing areas as far away as 60 miles south on the Red River, a very cold run with morning temperatures below freezing."

The members who volunteered as camera boat operators were also able to shadow the professional fisherman.

"Camera boat drivers had to be very knowledgeable about how to navigate on the Red River and of course be very familiar with all the oxbows and hidden lakes so we could find our professionals on the water if separated," Sergeant Nelson said.

The Airmen were given very prestigious and much desired positions being able to follow the professional fisherman.

"I followed Kota Kiriyama, Aaron Martens and Dave Wolak and of course saw dozens of others on the water," Sergeant Nelson said. "On day two, Steve Reneau covered Kim Bain-Moore, the first woman to ever fish the Classic. Skeet Reese, Mike Iaconelli, Edwin Evers, Brian Snowden, Kelly Jordan, Jamie Fralick and many others were all filmed from our boats."

Master Sgt. Gregory Korkose, the 2nd Bomb Wing Safety superintendent of weapons safety and the Hawgherders secretary, was a camera boat operator for the tournament, and was also able to follow a professional fisherman each day

"As the cameraman got good footage, I would ensure the tapes made it to a tape runner in a timely manner," he said. "This ensured ESPN had almost real time video throughout the tournament."

Although the volunteering Hawgherders arrived around 5:15 a.m. each morning and left around 5 p.m., they were able to take something away from the experience.

"The overall best part was being able to meet all the professionals and learning from them," Sergeant Korkoske said. "My favorite part of the event was during the launch. All the pros were tied up to the docks and I had access to talk to my favorites as they geared up prior to take off. I was able to get autographs from all of my favorite professionals."

Sergeant Nelson echoed his sentiments, calling it an experience of a lifetime.

"As a fan of bass fishing, this was an incredible experience," he said. "It is incomprehensible how much goes into producing an event of this magnitude. It is truly the Super Bowl of bass fishing."

Mr. Reese won the classic with his catch over three days totally 54 pounds and 13 ounces. 

Comment on this story (comments may be published on Air Force Link)

View the comments/letters page