BY BOB SEMERAU
OXNARD — Over the years, hundreds of worthy individuals have been given the opportunity to fish together, spending a day sharing life experiences. Supported by a group of dedicated volunteers, Mission F.I.S.H. works with veterans, active-duty military, first responders and Gold Star family members to complete their mission of helping those in need.
Since its inception in 2015, each year the group plans several trips, with Operation Anacapa, an all-expense paid fishing experience in early September, taking over 100 participants for a day of Fishing, Interacting, Sharing and Healing.
The most recent occasion for Operation Anacapa had 5 boats load up 130 anglers and volunteers in the early morning hours to fish along the central coast out of Channel Islands Sportfishing, Oxnard and Hook’s Landing. The local Navy Federal Credit Union came out with coffee and breakfast treats in the early morning hours.
Four boats, operating out of Channel Islands Sportfishing Company, Oxnard (CISCOS), participated in the most recent event, Operation Anacapa. With anglers aboard, Speed Twin, Island Fox, Gentleman and Aloha Spirit departed the landing just after 7:00 a.m. for a great day of camaraderie and fishing for all. The New Hustler, working out of Hook’s Landing, boarded anglers and joined the group as they left the harbor.
Mission F.I.S.H. president Brian Barber Sr., a resilient survivor of PTSD himself, the result of his years of Military Service in the Marine Corps, understands the difficulties people go through when returning home.
“We are here to offer a helping hand to anyone that is suffering,” says Mission F.I.S.H. president Barber. “Our goal is to not only help the returning and active-duty veterans, but first responders and Gold-Star family members as well. Sometimes we all feel helpless and uneasy. When those feelings become all-consuming and begin to take a toll on an individual’s daily life it can lead to horrific results.”
The meaning of the acronym of the organization, F.I.S.H., tells the mission it was founded upon: Fishing, Interacting, Sharing and Healing. Operation Anacapa is about being on the water, catching fish and sharing stories.
“This is one of the best things we can do,” observed Will Smith, a Marine Corps veteran along for the day. “Getting fish is nice but being out here with others that have similar experiences shows us all that we are not alone,” concluded Smith.
To better get acquainted Mission F.I.S.H. held a meet-n-greet for all attendees and volunteers at a local pizza shop the evening prior to Operation Anacapa. Celebrity rod builder Doc Ski came out with one of his beautiful sticks to give away. World-renowned taxidermist and marine artist, Rocky Markham, showed up with a few of his limited edition, signed art prints, raffled off during the meet-n-greet. A highlight of the gathering came when veteran Phillip Bennie, a long-standing participant, presented a bronze trophy inscribed to Mission F.I.S.H. president Barber, commemorating his hard work over the years.
Bennie spent 23 years in U.S. Airforce fire protection and another 20 years as a firefighter, working all the way up to Fire Chief. But he is one of the first to say Mission F.I.S.H. is a valuable asset in his mental health. “It’s not the biggest fish, but the long stories and personal talks that make it all worthwhile, and I cannot thank them enough for what they do,” declared Bennie between slices of pizza.
Mike Armenta, manager of the Oxnard Turner’s Outdoorsman, came out for both the pizza party and the day’s fishing. Armenta and Turner’s Outdoorsman are both strong supporters of the Mission F.I.S.H. efforts, providing all the terminal tackle for anglers to use during the day on the water.
Fishing was tough as the barometer fluctuated prior to the arrival of tropical storm Kay into the region, but despite the picky bite, fish came over the rail throughout the day.
A special addition to the day on the water was the advent of clinical assistance from Genesis Programs on board some of the boats. Dana Couch, aboard Speed Twin, made herself available to anyone needing to talk, or seeking more information on where to get help.
White Heart is an organization with the mission of “Improving the mental and physical health of post-9/11 veterans though eco-therapy and specialized care.” Micah Long, director of Operations, came out for the fishing trip with a few of White Heart’s clients, giving them an opportunity they might have missed. The organization specializes in giving veterans an adventure experience, often lasting a week or more, designed to improve both physical and mental health.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, caused by traumatic events in the performance of one’s duties serving in the military, or as a first responder, often goes untreated and unresolved. Gold-Star family members, those having lost loved ones through traumatic events while in service, can carry those scars as well.
The simple act of spending a day on the water, fishing and sharing with people of similar backgrounds and experiences can be enormously beneficial for those who suffer. Government programs offer little in the way of recreational therapy and when drugs and medical interaction do not work, fishing just might make a difference.
The boats worked the area offering the greatest opportunity to get fish, and at a set time all the boats paused in the action to honor those veterans who have given their full measure or have been lost to tragic suicide following their service.
At 11:11 a.m. the colors were flown, and a brief moment of silence was observed. The time is representative of the 22 veterans of military service who commit suicide each day.
Nearly 20-percent of veterans suffer from PTSD upon return to civilian life. Mission F.I.S.H. hopes to alleviate some of that stress and give not only an outlet through fishing, but a year-round resource for help when needed most.
Despite the day being a tough day of fishing, anglers bagged plenty of fish to be filleted by the deck crew on each boat during the trip back to Channel Islands Harbor.
Returning about 4:00 p.m., the anglers off-loaded from the boats next to CISCO’S and headed to the nearby park where they were met by flags waving in the afternoon breeze.
Volunteers, under the direction of Jessica Barber, had tables and chairs set out, with a taco bar and dirty hot dog station doling out plenty of great food and drinks.
Most everyone participating took home raffle prizes and goodie boxes from sponsors and supporters alike.
“This event would not be possible without the tireless efforts of our volunteers and donors working hard every day,” says Mission F.I.S.H. President Barber. “We do it all for the veterans, first responders, Gold-Star family members. We are here for them and will be here with even more exciting trips in the years to come.”