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Falcons go fishing with wounded veterans

Falcons kicker Matt Bryant and long snapper Josh Harris head to a new position on Lake Lanier with veteran Patricia Baisden and fishing boat captain Mark Smith on Wednesday during the annual Fishing With The Falcons event. (Photo: Kara Durrette/Falcons)

Falcons kicker Matt Bryant and long snapper Josh Harris head to a new position on Lake Lanier with veteran Patricia Baisden and fishing boat captain Mark Smith on Wednesday during the annual Fishing With The Falcons event. (Photo: Kara Durrette/Falcons)

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Veteran Jonathan Jones patiently waits to catch a fish alongside fishing boat captain Barry Smith on Wednesday during the annual Fishing With The Falcons veterans event on Lake Lanier. (Photo: Kara Durrette/Falcons)

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Falcons wide receiver Drew Davis waits for his first catch of the day during the annual Fishing With The Falcons veterans event on Lake Lanier. (Photo: Kara Durrette/Falcons)

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A pair of Falcons cheerleaders prepares to head out on the boat with fishing boat captain Gary Hanson and veteran Kenneth Craig during the annual Fishing With The Falcons veterans event on Lake Lanier. (Photo: Kara Durrette/Falcons)

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Veteran Donald Evans holds up his catch of the day while Falcons rookie quarterback Jeff Mathews sits back on the boat during the annual Fishing With The Falcons veterans event on Lake Lanier. (Photo: Kara Durrette/Falcons)

BUFORD – The Atlanta Falcons have made it a priority to be active in the community and give back to those who make a difference on a daily basis.

That was true on Wednesday as players, coaches, cheerleaders and alumni from the Falcons organization were on hand at Lake Lanier to join with wounded military veterans for a day of fishing and fun for the seventh straight year.

Approximately 30 wounded military veterans, who are part of a Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) based out of Fort Gordon in Augusta, got to spend an afternoon on Lake Lanier trying to reel in that special catch before relaxing at a cookout that head coach Mike Smith joined.

“The Falcons organization enjoys supporting these types of events as a way to say thank you for all that our troops do for us on a daily basis,” Smith said. “Everyone seemed to have a good time today fishing on the lake with our players and coaches and getting to know each other. We look forward to this event every year.”

Fishing prizes included most catches, largest striper, largest spotted bass, smallest striper and smallest spotted bass.

But the best prize for the military veterans most likely came when they met representatives from the Falcons organization.

“This is very special to us being able to interact with the players,” Sgt. Jonathan Jones said. “They’re doing their part in the community and they talk to each one of us individually. These athletes train hard and they can relate to how we train and prepare. It’s a very friendly and very personable interaction.”

The United States Army established WTUs at major military treatment facilities to provide personalized support to wounded, ill and injured soldiers who require at least six months of rehabilitative care and complex medical management.

An outing like a trip to Lake Lanier to fish and spend time with Falcons players, coaches and cheerleaders provides a boost to morale and well-being.

“This is (the Falcons) chance to give back,” Sgt. Griffin Beckham said. “It’s a good gift for their team and it’s definitely a good gift for us. We’re back healing, whether it’s physically or mentally. So this gives us a break from sitting in our barracks, going through physical therapy or going to a doctor’s appointment. We can sit back and kind of feel human again and participate with people on the outside.”

Defensive tackle Corey Peters was one of the Falcons players participating on Wednesday. He said he knows the importance of recognizing wounded military veterans.

“I am an awful fisherman, but I do enjoy people and I like to get out on the water and just have a good time,” Peters said. “This is really the least we can do. These guys are the real heroes. This is good just to spend some time with these guys and talk. It makes it all worth it and they seem to get a lot out of it, too. It’s a win-win.”

Many Falcons players have family in the military, including center Joe Hawley, whose brother-in-law has served on missions to the Middle East.

“Any time you can give back to military members is huge, especially veterans who have served,” Hawley said. “It hits home with me. This is a fun event for them and us to come out here and get some fishing done. They share their stories and put their bodies on the line and sacrifice a lot. I definitely have a lot of respect for them and hanging out and hearing what they have to say.”