The soldiers were smiling, the bass, not so much. It was just after 11 a.m. Saturday morning, and it was tough to tell what had the troops more excited: weighing their catch, or the buffet of free barbecue that awaited them for lunch. Boat after boat docked at Little Mineral Marina, unloading young men in camouflage and coolers full of fresh fish. The morning expedition was the signature event of Operation Welcome Home, which brought more than 40 soldiers from Fort Hood and Fort Sill to Lake Texoma for a weekend striper siesta.

The soldiers were smiling, the bass, not so much. It was just after 11 a.m. Saturday morning, and it was tough to tell what had the troops more excited: weighing their catch, or the buffet of free barbecue that awaited them for lunch. Boat after boat docked at Little Mineral Marina, unloading young men in camouflage and coolers full of fresh fish. The morning expedition was the signature event of Operation Welcome Home, which brought more than 40 soldiers from Fort Hood and Fort Sill to Lake Texoma for a weekend striper siesta.


Locals J.D. and JoLean Dorsey founded the event four years ago, and still serve as its main sponsors. The Dorseys coordinate the donated boats and seek out volunteer fishing guides.


"J.D. was on the Internet one day, and (saw) the wounded warrior program down at Port O’Connor, … and he got to thinking, ‘Why couldn’t we do something like that on Lake Texoma?’" explained JoLean Dorsey. "We got a really good bunch of guys that came this year, but we always get a good bunch of guys. Slowly, people are getting onboard more and more each year."


All puns aside, the annual event has indeed brought more sponsors onboard each year. Some donate money to pay for the soldiers’ lodging, others, such as the Vietnam Veterans of America Sherman chapter, donate their time.


"J.D. stared this thing on a shoestring and a prayer, and look where it is now," said Jerry Wrenn of the VVA. "He told me ‘I don’t need your money, I just need you to volunteer; I just need your hours.’ And it just gets bigger and better every year."


Sgt. Tyrone Powell, who has done tours in Korea, Germany and Bosnia over his 21-year career, has been witness to the evolution of the event, having attended three years in a row.


"The neat thing is the camaraderie of different people coming together, the atmosphere, the kindness that they show when we come down," said Powell after unloading his team’s morning catch onto the scale for weigh-in. "It’s a very relaxing time; great fishing, great time with the community, that’s what I really like about it. Every soldier that has been here one time, they always want to come back because of the hospitality that this community shows the soldiers. I think I get more hospitality here than back in Ft. Hood," he said with a laugh.


Afghanistan veterans Eric Fritz and Trevor Cordery, who recently returned from a nine-month stint at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam in the eastern part of the country, said the weekend was a great chance to relax and fish a lake far from their home states.


"We don’t have striper bass back home, just large mouth and small mouth, so that was nice," said Cordery. "I caught a blue cat today, never caught a blue cat before, never caught a striper."


When asked if the two would make a return trip to Lake Texoma for Operation Welcome Home’s fifth anniversary in 2014, Cordery said he had other plans.


"I think I’m gonna be out of the Army by that time. I’ll come back down for the fishing, though."