News: Championship fisherman keeps PRT safe on dry land
Story by 1st Lt. Mark Lazane
PAKTIA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - U.S. Army Spc. James Mann, a native of Waterloo, S.C., is a dedicated gunner and driver for the security force element of the Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team at Forward Operating Base Sharana.
If he had his way though, he’d certainly turn in his Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle for his 19-foot, 200 horsepower bass fishing boat, perhaps to his favorite spot, J. Strom Thurmond Lake, near his house.
Mann’s teammates say he may have an addiction: an addiction to fishing.
Mann’s love of fishing shows in his recreational pursuits on the cover of fishing-related magazines, which showcase Mann’s fishing pursuits. It increasingly shows on the walls of his home, which are quickly filling up with fishing-related awards.
“I went on [rest and relaxation leave] recently, and I got home on a Friday,” said Mann, who is deployed from the B/1-178th Field Artillery Regiment, South Carolina Army National Guard. “I won a fishing tournament that kicked off that Saturday morning. It’s highly possible I’ll be buried with a fishing pole, just in case I need it.”
Mann fishes for a variety of reasons.
“I fish for the peace and tranquility it provides. I also fish for the challenge. Fish are always changing, and they’re smart. They never seem to do the same thing twice. It’s a challenge. That’s why I enter tournaments. It gives you a real sense of accomplishment to be able to tell yourself ‘I was the best fisherman out there today.’”
To Mann, a four-year Army veteran, fishing and the military have things in common.
“In the Army, as well as in fishing, you have to have discipline and attention to detail in order to be successful,” said Mann. “I use those skills in the job I do out here.”
Mann also used those skills when deciding, at age 39, to join the National Guard.
Joining the National Guard at such a late stage meant going through basic training with fellow soldiers who were at least half his age.
Mann said grit and determination developed in him while chasing monster bass around countless lakes throughout his life, and he made it through basic training fulfilling a dream he had had his entire life.
Following graduation from basic training, Mann joined his field artillery unit in South Carolina and learned early last year that he would be deploying to Afghanistan.
Today, Mann is a member of an approximately 125 man team that assists the Government Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with governance, development, agricultural and security initiatives.
As a member of the Paktika PRT, his job is to ensure his teammates get to and from their destination safely, whether it’s checking out the construction quality of roads, visiting with provincial leaders or engaging with the local population.
After a lifetime spent searching for the next big catch, not being able to fish is hard to deal with, said Mann.
“It’s really rough not being able to get away and fish out here, but it won’t last forever,” he said. “Every once in a while, I get a hold of a fishing magazine or two, and that helps, but really, it’s killing me right now not being on the water.”
For Mann, fishing isn’t a hobby that will go away soon.
“I’m going to keep fishing until I physically can’t do it anymore,” said Mann, who is a married father of three children. “I remember going fishing with my dad when I was real young. It’s pretty much how we hung out and developed a relationship. I’m trying to pass on that legacy to my kids now, though only one has any interest so far.”
Though fishing is extremely important to Mann, he manages to keep his excitement for it in check.
“As soon as I get home from this deployment, I’m going to reconnect with my family and make sure everyone is okay,” said Mann. “But once they’re settled, I’m sure I’ll be fishing. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”