By March 11, 2015 Read More →

Reel Thanx of Midland, Texas throws a line to injured soldiers

Reel Thanx has taken 168 soldiers on fishing weekend to Lake Amastad, changed lives

Mike Hutt was a broken man when he stepped off the plane at Midland Airport in 2012. And a little apprehensive about the upcoming weekend fishing trip with local charity Reel Thanx.

Reel Thanx

Former paratrooper and present Reel Thanx volunteer Mike Hutt. Photo: Reel Thanx.

After 17 years in the military, Hutt was discharged after a “hard landing” in a Chinook helicopter damaged a disc in his neck. He had completed two tours of Afghanistan and five in Iraq, where he was injured, and he had been medically retired. Like a lot of soldiers returning from overseas, Hutt was having a hard time adjusting to civilian life.

“I was in a real downhill spiral,” he said. 

His life turned around that weekend. “If all the people that read your article could actually see the transition from the way service members come into Midland and the way they leave Midland, it would be priceless,” he said.

Since Reel Thanx was created in 2007 there have been 168 soldiers like Hutt who have found new friends, sometimes even a new life and a job in Midland, as a result of their experience.

Reel Thanx

Mike Mundy, Reel Thanx director.

Alan Means is a director of Reel Thanx. He says the charity was founded by Mike Munday, a former Marine and local oil industry employee, who joined with buddy Terry Johnson and a quickly assembled group of like-minded volunteers to take a small group of soldiers to Lake Armastad, near Del Rio, Texas.

From small acorns do great oaks grow. Today, Reel Thanx is supported by hundreds of volunteers, numerous Midland-area oilfield service companies and producers, four directors (Terry Brown, Mike Starkey, and Nicole Osburn sit with Means and Munday on the board) and employee Katy Jordan. The annual budget of $100,000 is raised through several fund raisers, including an annual sporting clay shoot, the Steve Main Memorial Fishing Tournament, donations received through the charity’s website and various other area events.

“It’s one of those charities that people will jump off the bus to help you. Here in West Texas

Reel Thanx

Alan Means, director of Reel Thanx.

especially,” said Means in an interview.

Hutt says the Reel Thanx experience is a life changer. His wife learned about the organization via an email and encouraged him to apply online. He enjoys fishing and thought the weekend would be a simple affair. Was he wrong.

When the six soldiers get off the airplane, they are met by by the Patriot Guard Riders – a veterans support group of motorcycle riders – the Midland County Sheriff’s Department, and some of the community. The soldiers exit the airport through a line of full-sized American flags, then are whisked away in pick ups – Means jokes that no one owns cars in West Texas – with a full police escort to a barbecue hosted at the home of one of the directors.

After a pleasant evening with Reel Thanx directors and volunteers, the soldiers spend the night with a local family.

“You’re not put in a hotel, which I thought was kind of strange at first,” said Hutt, a former paratrooper with 160th Special Operations Aviation Regimen stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Reel Thanx

Reel Thanx flag line at the Midland Airport. Photo: Reel Thanx

“You’re welcomed into their home. You’re embraced as part of their family. And then you realize that these people are genuine, it really made you realize that there are people out there that actually, truly care about what’s going on in the world. And care about you as a soldier and what you’ve done for the country.”

The next morning, after a breakfast at the Green Tree Country Club, the soldiers head out for the lake. Along the way they are honoured by fire departments (lights blazing, firefighters saluting), the Riders for Fighters and a big group of children lining one of the streets (the convoy stops to let the soldiers shake hands with the kids), and another escort through the community of Ozona.

“That just blows these guys away, too,” said Means. “They’ve been on the road now for an hour and a half, they’re not expecting anything else and all of a sudden there’s another escort through a small town in West Texas.”

Reel Thanx

A Reel Thanx guest with director Mike Munday showing off their catch. Photo: Reel Thanx.

The group arrives late afternoon at the Reel Thanx camp, which consists of trailers loaned by local oil companies. The soldiers are billeted in the trailers along with a director.

Saturday and Sunday are spent fishing Lake Amastad, helped in part by donated rod, reel, and tackle, and by local guides who contribute their boats and time. One of the boats is wheelchair accessible because it’s not uncommon for one or more soldiers to have lost a leg. Or both legs.

“For the most part it’s improvised explosive devices that cause the injuries,” said Means. “Some of them have been shot. There’s a tremendous amount of PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. We actually had a young Marine on this last trip that his convoy had got blown up three times in six months. It affected his capability to be a soldier as a result of so many brain injuries.”

Every evening everyone gathers for “porch time,” where soldiers and Reel Thanx volunteers chat and get to know one another. Means says Sunday evening is his favourite part of the weekend.

Reel Thanx

More large mouth bass caught during the Reel Thanx fishing weekend. Photo: Reel Thanx.

“It’s a quiet time. It’s a time for these guys to reflect on their weekend,” he said. “That’s when these guys really loosen up and they tell you some of their struggles. They get a lot of that guilt, or a lot of animosity, off their chest on Sunday night.”

Count Hutt as a big believer in the power of the Reel Thanx experience. After returning to his family, he told his wife, “I fell in love with the people in this area. That’s where I want to raise my kids. I want them to grow up with that sense of patriotism, generosity, and just the way those people are.”

Six months later, Means gave Hutt a job and the man who only a few months before despaired of his future suddenly found himself with a new life. He now works as a sales representative for Basic Energy Services and volunteers for Reel Thanx whenever he can.

“I still get calls about how great this trip was and how the people here actually care,” he said. “To know that people are back here that actually love and care about you, and you can call them, that means everything to a soldier.”

Posted in: USA

3 Comments on "Reel Thanx of Midland, Texas throws a line to injured soldiers"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Heather says:

    I love this story! I wish more people would rally around our soldiers and share their stories.

  2. Ken says:

    Reel Thanx is an outstanding organization! Like so many other soldiers that have been invited to their event it is a life changing experience and it was just what I needed after being wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007. Mike Mundy, Randy, Terry Brown, Alan Means, George and the rest of the crew gave me the encouragement that I needed to move on with life. 6 years have gone by since my first visit and not a month has gone by when one of the Reel Thanx team hasn’t called to check on me. Who else does that? Love you guys, Ken

  3. Vicky May says:

    So inspiring to know that this group makes a big difference in giving back to those who have given so much!