While many folks are enjoying the wonders of Alaska and freedoms of America there are those who daily put on a military uniform to do the job of preserving those freedoms, accepting the risks and harms that can come from their job. Nine years ago Dave Goggia and Mike Fenton, Kenai River Guides thought of a way they and our community could say thanks to those brave men and women who have been wounded during their service in a tangible way. The local program today is called Wounded Heroes and Kenai River Foundation is the organization of fishing guides that take these warriors on a weekend fishing trip on the Kenai River. “This year we’ve branched out and invited all branches of the military to join us. We brought 80 down this year from JBER and all branches of the military from all over the state. Many come from the wounded transition unit as possible and with space available we’ll bring down other active military personnel. Some come for a return trip and tell us how much good it has done for their rehabilitation and that gets us excited to do it each year,” said Goggia.
Instead of out on the river making their living, 40 some Kenai River Guides volunteered their time, skills and equipment to make the two day event possible. According to Goggia a lot of other people in the community volunteer and sponsor the program that feeds, houses and entertains the wounded heroes while they are here. “Everything that comes in goes into the program we don’t have a paid staff or administrative fees so it all goes to the soldiers. They get lots of great prizes like hunting rifles and rods and reels everyone gets something that comes down and they really have a blast,” he said. “We’re already planning something special for our tenth anniversary next year. It was all the idea of Hobo Jim and John Whitlatch and Hobo was here again this year to do a free concert for the soldiers and they love it,” added Goggia.
Juan & Diego serve in the U.S. Army and are from Texas, coming in from a day of great fishing having returned from a deployment in Afghanistan, “No fish like this in Texas, this is truly amazing. Thank you Kenai.” Emmanuel from California also serves with the Army, had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and caught three fish on the river, “I love this state, I left once but I’m back now to stay because you all make this home,” he said. “It takes a ton of people that make this all come together from the guides to our volunteers to our sponsors. It’s a community effort from a lot of people and I hope the guys feel our love and appreciation for what they do every day. To take a guy who’s healing up after being wounded for their first trip on the river and see their wide eyed smiles after landing their first fish, from a guide’s standpoint is an intangible that is priceless,” said Mike Fenton. To learn more about the work of the Kenai River Foundation go to kenairiverfoundation.org.