This is the second year of the Big Rock Big hero program that allows active duty military a chance to join a boat
MOREHEAD CITY – Marine Julie Koch said her job as an E5 Sergeant serving aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point is to be “the last line of defense for the safety of a pilot.”
It sounds rather stressful managing eight different work centers in order to help ensure the safety of fellow Marines for the fourth-year Marine. So imagine how the Knoxville, Tennessee, native felt being able to hit the water as a participant of the Big Rock Blue Marlin Lady Angler Tournament.
“Just being able to relax on the open ocean and have no cell phone was wonderful,” Koch said. “Not having to worry about a flight schedule was nice.”
Koch was on board the Jacksonville-based Accordingly IV on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Indiana native Chris Whittler is an E6 Navy Corpsman stationed at Camp Lejeune, having served for nearly 16 years. His take on serving is simple.
“I don’t feel like I’m anyone special, but it is nice that other people appreciate it,” Whittler said, adding that he's just "doing my job."
Whittler took part Monday in the 61st annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, joining Koch in the Big Rock Big Hero that started last year. Whittler was on the Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based Just Chillin for Big Rock action Monday.
The Big Hero program allows active duty military stationed in North Carolina to register to be part of a boat during the tournament. This is the program’s second year.
“We are very proud of our armed forces and we’ve always wanted to support the military,” Big Rock Director Crystal Hesmer said. “The Wounded Warrior program is available, but we thought ‘What about active duty members? Let’s do something for them.’”
This marked the first time both Koch and Whittler took part in the Big Rock Blue Marlin.
Whittler called it “a blast” to be a participant.
“It really was a humbling experience to be selected,” he said. “It was kind of sad that we weren’t able to catch a fish, but we still had a good time out there.”
Koch called it “a truly amazing” experience.
“I am very grateful to be thought of. I will never forget this memory,” Koch said. “It was definitely an honor.”
Koch admitted she didn’t know what she was getting herself into before meeting the crew. Before she knew it, she was a participant of the most prestigious blue water fishing tournament along the East Coast.
“I didn’t know what I was walking into, but as soon as I got into Morehead City that morning and saw all the banners I was like ‘Holy crap’ this is bigger than I had imagined,’” Koch said. “I was intrigued with how much science goes into this and how much passion they all have for the tournament.”
Koch said she hadn’t had much fishing experience before this. Then all of the sudden, she was face-to-face with Accordingly IV’s 76’ Viking.
“Unless you count kayaking with a fishing rod from Walmart,” Koch quipped. “When I saw the boat, it was all the updated stuff. It was truly incredible.”
Koch said she wasn’t able to fish, but added she still did her part while on the boat.
“Any time the crew needed bait hooks or bait taken, I was the first to get my hands dirty,” she said.
Then there’s Whittler.
He said his previous fishing experience is highlighted by going out on the boat offshore with his father when he was younger.
“And I have a boat now and we go out every now and then,” Whittler said. “But I never had a chance to catch a big fish like they have here.”
And while the Just Chillin didn’t bring in a marlin, it doesn’t matter. Simply taking part in the Big Rock was a big thrill for him.
“It was a great overall experience,” he said. “The crew was awesome and they helped out everything. They were as nice as they could be. Everyone took time to thank me for my service. It was a nice, relaxing trip.”
Chris Miller can be contacted via email at email@example.com or by calling 910-219-8472. Follow him on twitter @jdnsports. For digital subscription information, click here.