Harry Braddock and his wife Sonya know all about sacrifice. “The first time I got deployed, I had a two-year-old and a ten-month-old,” Harry Braddock says.

Thirteen years of service and a handful of overseas deployments took an emotional toll on the family from Stanley. But over the weekend, their only duty was to relax.

“As a grateful wife married to a veteran, I really appreciate this stuff,” Sonya Braddock says.

A veteran poses with his haul after a day of fishing on Lake Sakakawea, courtesy of On the Water Inc.

“What else can I do to help out? That’s our mission; that’s my mission,” explains Chuck Betts, the founder of On the Water Inc. The local group, now in its eighth summer, pairs veterans with volunteers for a day of fishing on Lake Sakakawea, free of charge.

Jeff Willock is the group’s vice president. “Nobody gets paid a nickel,” he says. “Our bylaws do not allow our volunteers to get paid, even for the gas they use.”

“To me, they’re the heroes, that come out and help veterans, at their own cost,” Harry Braddock says.

The bites were few and far between on this choppy day in the bay around Indian Hills Resort. But if you ask everyone involved, the fishing is secondary.

The guys […] are saying, ‘We don’t deserve this.’ Well if you don’t, who does?

jeff willock, v.p. of on the water inc.

“You see the difference in the guys from the time they show up and the time they leave,” Willock explains.

“These gentlemen will break down and have tears in their eyes because they didn’t expect anything for free,” Betts says.

And for military families like the Braddocks, the gift of fellowship and relaxation is as good as any “big fish story.”

“This is a way they can cope, by getting away,” Harry Braddock says. “Give you a chance to get out of regular life, gives you a chance to reset.”

“The guys are leaving and saying, we don’t deserve this,” Willock says. “Well if you don’t, who does?”

If you know a veteran who would benefit from a free fishing trip, you can contact Chuck and Jeff at On the Water.

Click here to visit the group’s Facebook page and learn more or send them a message.