Nick Kefalides is our Fishing Adventure ambassador, having organized and hosted several fishing charters for Freedom Alliance in the Florida Keys and Bahamas.
Earlier this year, Nick took the fishing to Louisiana. His good friend George had heard about the Freedom Alliance fishing and seen the photos. He wanted to experience for himself how these events serve veterans, and he covered the cost of everyone’s meals during the trip.
Because George knows Mike Ellis, a captain with Relentless Sport Fishing out of Venice, Louisiana, the cost of this charter was deeply discounted. Nick and George were all set to co-host an unforgettable fishing adventure.
“Little did we know,” Nick said, “the next two days would go down as one of Freedom Alliance’s most successful offshore fishing trips yet.”
Nick invited two veterans. One was Jeff, who was a reconnaissance and special operations command Marine until about eight years ago.
Transitioning from the Marine Corps to civilian life has been challenging, but Jeff has acquired a license to pursue a career as a charter boat captain. He says that life out on the water provides the tranquility and healing he needs.
Tim, an Army Ranger and the other member of the crew, was recently retired due to injuries suffered during overseas deployment. Tim had never been offshore fishing before, and Nick said his enthusiasm was contagious.
“I have never,” said Nick, “had a veteran as ecstatic and pumped up as Tim was… Even some of us who have been fishing for a long time were a little more pumped about this trip than usual.
“I lost count of how many times Tim said thank you.”
The men took accommodations at Cypress Cove Marina and Lodge. On the first night, they had dinner with Captain Mike, discussing what lay ahead for the next two days. Nick said it was as if everyone already knew each other, with much joking and storytelling.
After a good night’s rest, the crew met at the boat in the early morning. Captain Mike steered them down the Mississippi River and out into the Gulf.
Five minutes after arriving, they caught a 115-pound Yellowfin Tuna!
Altogether, over the two days on the water, the Freedom Alliance crew caught seven tuna, all over 80 pounds each. The excitement could not be matched, and Nick was reminded of how much these servicemen desire the thrill and camaraderie they had in the military.
Nick said, “In my experience hosting these trips, I’ve noticed that the majority of veterans come home from combat both physically and mentally broken. Some are still recovering from physical injuries and most battling things like depression, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries and other challenges associated with transitioning from serving in a combat zone to returning to civilization.”
Before hitting the road, Tim shook Nick’s hand and hugged him. Nick asked if he enjoyed the trip. The Army Ranger and father of four removed his sunglasses, and with tears in his eyes, said, “Brother … thank you. You have no idea how much good this trip has done me. I needed this, man.”
Tim explained that he had been struggling lately, but that the fishing and the bonding was exactly the kind of medicine he needed to reset his life. He also said that he would have never been able to afford such a trip, having a fixed income.
Nick was moved to hear Tim’s gratitude. He watched this veteran leave to go home and share his new fond memories with his family.
“This is what it’s all about,” Nick told us. “This is why I will continue to push the mission of Freedom Alliance and continue to help my brothers for as long as the opportunity is available.”