Outdoor Life Online Editor

As this is written, the United States has just handed over the sovereignty of Iraq to an interim government, pending elections at year’s end. Every day, our newspapers are filled with doom and gloom, to the point that you might be inclined to wonder whether anything is going right in Iraq. Well, take heart. A recent letter from “Uncle” Homer Circle proves that American troops are making a difference, and that in small but important ways, sportsmen GIs are using fishing as a way to reach out to the Iraqi people. Homer writes:

“Sergeant Patrick Keough, 38, who returned home after serving a year’s tour of duty in Iraq, went fishing in his favorite Tennessee river (the Cumberland) and caught a 13½-pound striped bass. Keough caught the fish on a Shakespeare Ugly Stik and Mepps SpinFlex lure, then entered his catch in Outdoor Life’s Fishing Awards program. Accompanying his entry form was this photograph of Sergeant Keough and an Iraqi boy with a pair of native fish.”

Believing there had to be a story behind the photo, Homer telephoned Keough and asked for further details. According to Homer, “Keough was stationed in northern Iraq at a ‘rest-and-relaxation station,’ and being an avid fisherman, he could think of no better way to enjoy both.” In desperate need of tackle, Keough wrote to two American companies-Shakespeare Fishing Tackle and Sheldon Inc., makers of Mepps spinners-and asked them to send some of his favorite rigs. Keough received a generous supply of tackle and shared the rigs with friendly Iraqis, teaching them the art of catching fish on artificial lures instead of hand lines and live bait.

“Sergeant Keough is retiring from the service, but we expect to receive more qualifying entries from this able angler in the future,” concluded Homer.

We also heard from U.S. Army Specialist Jeremy Neal, who recently rotated back from Iraq, where his unit (the 555th Combat Engineers) was assigned to rebuild schools, repair water and sewage treatment facilities and provide humanitarian aid. While on leave, Neal took a fine 40-pound flathead catfish from Lake Eufaula, near his hometown of Eufaula, Okla., and entered his fish in our awards program.During a recent interview in his local newspaper, Neal said, “The job is being done in Iraq.” He also shared these words of encouragement: “Don’t take freedom for granted. Be thankful you have it.” Sound advice for all of us to remember as we sit in our deer stands this fall.