In August 2006, a young man named Rafael Beltran married my oldest daughter, Carrie Ann. He proposed to her earlier that year on the parade field at Fort Benning, Georgia, the day he graduated from boot camp. His platoon had circled them so she couldn’t run away when he popped the question.
After that big day, Rafael, who we call Rafa, attended Signal Corps training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, to become a communications specialist. While there, he spent several weekends visiting my wife and me at our home in Buford, and I took him on a few short fishing trips on nearby Lake Lanier. He hadn’t done much fishing until then, but Rafa was a quick study and he was soon catching fish.
Upon completion of Signal Corps training, he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and was then deployed to Iraq for a year. He returned home safely in August 2008 and was given 30 days leave. During that time, he and Carrie Ann planned to spend a few days with my wife and me, and then travel with us to visit my family in Michigan over Labor Day. It was the ideal opportunity for Rafa and I to get to know each other better, and what better way than fishing?
In the two days before we headed north, we first hit nearby Lake Jackson. It wasn’t long before Rafa hung into his first striper, just shy of 3 pounds, which really got him going. He also caught a few spotted bass and crappies. Mostly, we just enjoyed the day, talking and telling war stories.
We spent Day 2 on Lake Lanier, where we picked up a few spots trolling Shad Raps and Rat-L-Traps, as well as casting plastic worms around docks. The action wasn’t near as good as the day before, but Rafa learned the old saying, “A bad day fishing is better than a good day working,” is true.
The following day, we traveled to Michigan’s Torch Lake, where we’d spend three great days fishing small-mouths, perch and rock bass together with the rest of the family.
By the time we headed home, Rafa was hooked. In fact, I heard that shortly after returning to Fort Bragg, he was fishing on his lunch breaks and had even bought a jonboat so he could cover more water on the nearby lakes and rivers.
This past April, Rafa and Carrie Ann gave my wife and me our first grandchild. And in July, he deployed for his second tour in Iraq. I’m counting the days and praying he returns home safely so we can get back on the water together. In the meantime, I e-mail him lots of fishing pictures to keep the fire burning!
This story was selected as the top submission in the recent Salute Our Soldiers contest, sponsored by Schrade Knives. Rafael “Rafa” Beltran will receive a 12-inch Uncle Henry
fillet knife, engraved with his name and branch of service, as well as a commemorative eagle sculpture.
Honorable mentions go to the stories of members Walter Piskator, Marvin Hyatt, Jeff Hall and Tyler Shields. The soldiers featured in their submissions will each receive an engraved fillet knife.