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Air Force retiree 'fishes' for new recruits

ONIZUKA AIR FORCE STATION, Calif. (AFRNS) -- When Capt. David L. Erwin retired from the Air Force in 2001, he wasn't quite ready to leave the "blue" life behind. Instead, he came up with a plan to combine his love of fishing with his desire to maintain a connection to the Air Force.

Today this Air Force ambassador holds the distinction as the only professional fisherman in the country sponsored by the Air Force, and his passion is clearly evident. His Chevy Tahoe proudly sports "airforce.com" stickers, and his blue and silver boat boasts "Cross into the Blue" along its sides.

"I loved my Air Force experience and wasn't ready to give it up for good when I retired," Captain Erwin said.

As an active-duty Airman, Captain Erwin served for 10 years as an enlisted aerospace ground equipment mechanic before being selected for Officer Training School. In 1991 he arrived at Onizuka Air Force Station as a "newly minted" second lieutenant.

After nearly 22 years on active duty, Captain Erwin retired from the military. He returned to Onizuka as a senior systems engineer for Stellar Solutions, where he serves as an adviser to the Air Force on satellite command and control operations and engineering.

Captain Erwin competes as a professional fisherman, or angler, in West Coast national-level bass angling tournaments from Lake Shasta in northern California to Lake Havasu in Arizona. He teamed up with a recruiting squadron in Sacramento, and together they spread the word on Air Force careers.

"I enjoy talking with young folks about opportunities in the Air Force," he said, "and I wear the uniform every chance I get."

About two years ago the captain started a program called "Practice with a Pro," where active-duty people and retirees can spend a day on the water with a professional angler to fish, relax and have fun.

"We professional fishermen want to say 'thank you' for serving our country," he said. "It's the sacrifices (Airmen) make every day that enable us to enjoy the great sport of fishing."

Captain Erwin set up a national registry that enables tournament anglers and current and former military people to connect. He recalled many times traveling alone to practice for a tournament and thinking it would be nice to share the experience with another person.

"I thought, why not let one of our nation's heroes join me for the day," he said. "It (would be) rewarding for both the angler and the military member."

Captain Erwin's enthusiasm for the Air Force has taken him to numerous events throughout California, including the Salinas Air Show, San Jose Veterans' Day Parade, and the Oakland A's Fan Appreciation Day. He'll talk to anyone and everyone about the Air Force and said he feels strongly about the importance of making a difference to "his Air Force."

Recently his efforts garnered national attention when ABC News contacted Captain Erwin to include him in a story narrated by ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff, who was injured in a roadside attack in Iraq in January 2006. The news correspondent and his cameraman sustained traumatic head injuries in the attack. Now well on the road to recovery, Mr. Woodruff has started a foundation to help people injured in service to their country who have suffered similar brain injuries.

Mr. Woodruff's quest to educate the American people on these types of injuries and highlight other people doing good things for veterans led an ABC News team to the Campbell, Calif., home of Army veteran Warren Hardy. Mr. Hardy suffered a traumatic brain injury and damage to his spinal cord three years ago when his armored personnel carrier struck an anti-tank mine in Iraq.

Following his release from the Army, he and his wife moved back to Silicon Valley, where Mr. Hardy had been employed as a software engineer. Mr. Hardy has been unable to return to work and is still undergoing treatment for his injuries.

Through contact with friends and phone calls, Mr. Woodruff learned of Captain Erwin's Practice with a Pro program, which brought the captain and Mr. Hardy, who is also an avid fisherman, together. An ABC News camera crew chronicled the angler and the injured veteran fishing at nearby Lake Anderson. One of Mr. Woodruff's assistants interviewed Captain Erwin for a news segment which airs Feb. 27.

The veteran angler, though obviously happy about appearing on national news, remains focused on his No. 1 mission.

"Hopefully," he said, "my program ... will get some publicity."

Captain Erwin has a number of sponsors and chooses only those which compliment his primary sponsor, the Air Force.

"I am 'aiming high,'" he said, "and (I am) in negotiations with several other companies."

As if all this wasn't enough to keep him busy full time, Captain Erwin also performs enlistment ceremonies for Air Force Reserve recruiters and mentors high school students. He proudly displays his boat at air, boat and outdoor shows as often as possible.

All he needs now, he said, is a good answer to the question, "So why does the Air Force need a boat?" (Courtesy of Air Force Space Command News Service)