Le Lézard
Classified in: Business, Sports and recreation
Subjects: AWD, VET, DEI

Combat-wounded veterans celebrate at awards ceremony for fifth annual War Heroes on Water charitable sportfishing tournament

US Army Veteran Brent Woodward takes home five trophies, including coveted Ron Ashimine Award for top angler

"Game On" earns inaugural Josh Miles Award, given to the boat with the highest average points per angler

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif., Sept. 29, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- Following the transformative three-day War Heroes on Water (WHOW) sportfishing tournament, United States Military veterans turned-anglers joined together for an emotional awards ceremony Tuesday evening at the Lyon Air Museum in Santa Ana, Calif. Set against the backdrop of WWII-era planes and artifacts, 125 veterans, many of whom have received some of our nation's highest military decorations including the Silver Star and Bronze Star Medals, and the Purple Heart, celebrated their accomplishments on the water with captains and crews as they reflected on the event's critical impact.

The evening kicked-off with a speech from Tom Kilgannon, President of Freedom Alliance, WHOW's charitable partner. Kilgannon praised the veterans for the sacrifices they have made, "You have so much more to give to this country; your contributions to the Unites States are far from over. You all are very special people, who have gifts and talents and I'm blessed to be able to know you."

In its fifth annual and largest tournament to-date, the event featured 50 of Southern California's finest sportfishing vessels and raised well over $1 million. WHOW has raised $5 million since the tournament's inception, which supports Freedom Alliance's year-round therapeutic services and scholarships for combat-wounded service members and their families.

Kilgannon passed the mic to WHOW Founder Anthony Hsieh who reflected on the beginning of WHOW and shared his overwhelming appreciation for our veterans and civilian supporters. "I hope all of you are as proud as I am in the fifth year of this tournament. We take so much for granted as civilians, and when you look around this room at our heroes who sacrifice so much ? as a civilian, I can't comprehend what you have gone through. I couldn't ask for a better event with a better spirit and a better community."

Hsieh went on to thank the Southern California sportfishing community for its invaluable support, adding "We realize the most important spoke in this wheel are our yacht owners and captains. No matter how much money we raise, without your support, this couldn't happen, so I want to recognize each and every one of you. I hope this event has changed you just a little bit, as it has changed me ? and especially the lives of our veterans." 

Before handing out awards, WHOW tournament director Rod Halperin projected, "I am incredibly proud of WHOW - it is a great event, it has changed my life, and I hope it's changed all of your lives. I'm so proud of all of our veterans. You all make me proud of my country, proud of the flag. You make me proud to be an American and that is a great feeling, that is the best feeling in the world."

US Army veteran Brent Woodward collected the most trophies of the night with five in total, reeling in the highest cumulative weight at 245.2 pounds, the biggest Yellowfin Tuna (49.7 pounds) and Bluefin Tuna (195.5 pounds), and his team placed third in the "Top Boat" category.

Woodward also took home one of the most coveted prizes of the night, The Ron Ashimine Award for the top angler, which is especially poignant as it is named for a Vietnam veteran and close friend of Hsieh. Together, Anthony and Ron spent more than 800 days at sea, fishing around the world. Ron participated in the first WHOW tournament, held in 2018, but passed away in 2019.

Woodward was onboard Hsieh's "Bad Company 75" with Navy veteran Cyndi Miles, who recently lost her husband, a highly decorated Marine Corps veteran and the former Director of Military and Charitable Programs for Freedom Alliance. Josh Miles was known as the heartbeat of the tournament and worked tirelessly to help it thrive, all out of his love for his fellow servicemen and women.

The inaugural Josh Miles Award for "Top Boat" was presented to the vessel "Game On," which hosted veterans Alhajie Fofanah and Thomas Pacheco. Accepting the inaugural honor, Fofana raised his trophy in the air and led the crowd in a powerful tribute to Josh. The Award was created to honor and recognize Josh's teamwork, leadership, and dedication.

Pacheco, a first-time WHOW participant and retired Army telecommunication systems chief, who also took home honors finishing second in the "Top Angler" and third in the "Weight Points" categories, shared the impact this year's tournament had on his life, "Back in the military, I really felt like I was somebody important and when I retired, I felt like I was nobody. This tournament brought me back up to where I was somebody again, so thank you very much."

While the event?and the awards ceremony itself?was epic, all in attendance echoed one sentiment: this event provides a singular opportunity for veterans from across the country to form deep and genuine bonds with one another, as well as with the WHOW fleet captains and crews, creating an enduring safety net and long-term support system. Set against the calming backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, WHOW allows these veterans to forge new relationships, open up to each other and bond over similar experiences and feelings, allowing for much needed healing to occur.

Retired Marine Corps Corporal Larry Draughn, who placed first in qualifier points and third in the "Top Angler" category, took a moment to speak to his fellow participants and civilian supporters reflecting, "I struggle with my own demons every day. I've had a rough last few months but this event has given me something to look forward to and kept my head above water mentally. Sometimes some of us lose to those demons but WHOW really helps us to fight them off, so we have a purpose, and something to look forward to."

Another honorable mention included Army Veteran Mea Peterson's second place finish in the "Weight Points" category aboard El Cazador, reeling in 210.3 pounds of Bluefin and Yellowfin Tuna. In her second WHOW, Peterson was one of six female veterans who joined this year's tournament.

A total of 20 trophies were handed out during the celebration, including awards for Species, Qualifying Points, Weight Points, Overall Points and Top Boat.

Top Angler

Top Boat

Weight Points

Qualifier Points

1. Brent Woodward, Bad
Company 75

*Ron Ashimine Award

1. Game On

*Josh Miles Award

1. Brent Woodward,
Bad Company 75

1. Larry Draughn,


2. Thomas Pacheco,
Game On

2. Seaclusion

2. Mea Peterson,
El Cazador

2. Wayne Taylor, Play N

3. Larry Draughn,

3.Bad Company 75

3. Thomas Pacheco,
Game On

3. Jeff Duarte, Bottom


Species Winners

Calico Bass:

Aaron May, Aquila


Wayne Taylor, Play N Hookey


Aaron May, Aquila


Larry Draughn, Zoriana

Yellowfin Tuna:

Brent Woodward, Bad Company 75

Bluefin Tuna:

Brent Woodward, Bad Company 75


Wayne Taylor, Play N Hookey


Jack Graham, Kea Kai

About War Heroes on Water 
War Heroes on Water (WHOW) is an annual sportfishing tournament of unprecedented scale that supports combat-wounded veterans' programs. It was created by Anthony Hsieh, who is also the owner and leader of Team Bad Company, a world-class, record-holding competitive sportfishing fleet. Through Hsieh's deep connections with the Southern California sportfishing and business communities, WHOW has grown exponentially over five years and is now the largest nonprofit sportfishing tournament in the US.

About Freedom Alliance 
Freedom Alliance is a charitable organization which provides help and support to wounded troops and military families. Freedom Alliance has awarded more than $20 million in college scholarships to the children of military heroes killed or disabled in military service and has spent millions more helping injured veterans and military families with outdoor recreational therapy trips, Heroes Vacations, care packages for deployed troops, mortgage-free homes, all-terrain wheelchairs and much more. To learn more, visit www.FreedomAlliance.org or Facebook.com/FreedomAlliance.

Jonathan Fine 
[email protected]

SOURCE War Heroes on Water

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