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Walking on Water helps bring veterans back to ice fishing

Over 100 people, comprised of vets and volunteers gathered together on Mantrap Lake throughout the day on Saturday for the Walking on Water Outdoors Veteran's Event. (Nicole Vik/Enterprise)

Walking on Water Outdoors (W.O.W.) hosted its 2nd Annual Veteran's Event on Mantrap Lake, where the temperatures on Saturday were mild and the sun was shining, making it an ideal day to be out on the lake.

The ministry, which exists to serve the community by offering events centered around fishing and hunting, organized the event to take veterans and active duty military out to fish.

Tim Schmid, the event coordinator, reported they had more than double the amount of veterans out on the ice this year as compared to last year.

Schmid said he got little to no sleep prior to the event.

"I was up all night thinking, 'the snow is going to melt, someone's going to fall,' and then the longer I go sleep deprived I started thinking, 'the ice is going to break, everything is going to go wrong.'" In the end, however, the only one that fell during the event was Schmid himself.

Schmid said he had vets texting him at 3 a.m., full of excitement. The event was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. but a few vets followed Schmid out to the lake at 7 a.m. to drop their lines.

W.O.W. had over 100 people show up throughout the day, including over 50 veterans, with the oldest veteran, Bob Buckley, being 91.

Some of the volunteers were also veterans themselves.

"We had so many people from this community who stepped up and helped us make this happen," Schmid said about the generosity of sponsors and volunteers.

Nine fish houses were donated for the day and set up in a circle with a flag pole flying an American flag in the center. Portable fish houses were also set up for use.

Volunteers were on hand to help the vets drill holes, bait hooks and clean fish. The volunteers also shuttled the vets from the shore and taught them how to use modern fishing gear such as Vexilars and iFishPro Tip Ups.

Assembly of God Church catered the event, grilling brats and hotdogs and walking from fish house to fish house with refreshments.

Civil Air Patrol Cadets from the Northland Composite Squadron in Bemidji were present at the event to help serve the veterans and enjoy fishing and conversing with them.

One veteran, John Zentz, served as a cadet himself before he served in the United States Navy during the Korean War.

Zentz served two years, eight months and 10 days in the combat zone flying for the Navy.

"I was lucky to come home fine," he said.

Veterans from nearly all branches of the military were out on the ice to fish, including the National Guard, Air Force, Army and Navy having served in the Korean War, World War II, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to Schmid, a lot of the local veterans rarely get the opportunity to get out on the ice; one of veterans had told Schmid that he hadn't been out fishing since 1999.

"It's about getting them out there," Schmid said. "If they're all smiling, that's what it's about."

Alina Johnsen, enlisted in the United States Army as a Medical Specialist in 1990. She broke her foot while she was in the service that led to her sustaining some rare nerve damage, which retired her from the military due to the fact that she had to receive medical implants.

"It's been years since I've been out ice fishing. I have nerve damage really bad and the cold bothers me," she said. "So this is awesome, if it weren't for this event I wouldn't have wanted to try it again. I forgot how much fun it is."

Johnsen comes from a military family, her grandfather, father, uncles, brothers, cousins and nephews all served; her and her cousin were the only two females in their family to serve. Her two sons carried on that family tradition and joined when they were 17 years old, her youngest son is currently serving in Kuwait.

"Last year it was very personal, this year it was a blast. I don't think there was anybody that didn't have a great time," Schmid said. "They were just fishing and having fun, even the ones that weren't catching fish."

Pastor Art Wood has retired from his service at the Assembly of God Church in Park Rapids. Before he became a minister he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Cuban Crisis.

"It's not about catching fish," Pastor Wood said. "It's about the fellowship."

The veterans were given the opportunity to swap stories about their time in the military with those who may be able to relate to some of their experiences.

Gary Holk, who served during Vietnam, heard about the event on Facebook.

"I used to ice fish in my younger years. Now, by the time I get all the work done I'm worn out," Holk said. "It's not as much fun when you're by yourself. When you get to visit with the other veterans the stories start flying."

As a special surprise for the veterans, Walking On Water Outdoors put calls out to teachers all over, and kids from as far as California wrote out thank you letters, cards and notes to the veterans who attended. The organization received hundreds of submissions expressing gratitude to the men and women who served, and the notes were handed out in sealed bags to all of the veterans prior to leaving.

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