A special episode of the National Geographic show ‘Wicked Tuna’ showcased six wounded veterans alongside their cast of boat captains in an effort to give back to the veteran community.

The show, which focuses on commercial fishermen that fish the waters off the coast of Gloucester, Mass., gives a glimpse into the lives of those a working as commercial bluefin tuna fishermen. The episode that premiered Sunday, May 30 at 9:00 pm — provided a healing experience for the wounded veterans.

In partnership with Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), a nonprofit organization that supports veterans and active duty service members who have suffered a physical or mental injury, illness or wound while serving the United States, the captains featured on the show invited vets from across New England to take part in catching bluefin.

One veteran who participated in the episode, Jeffery Nunez, served over five years in the Marine Corps and he believes his time on board the boat was part of his healing from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He had seen a few episodes of the show before, but had never gone deep sea fishing before.

“Being a veteran, your mind is always cluttered or always on guard,” Nunez told Military Times. “Being able to clear that clutter up and just be there in the moment and the thrill of actually catching a fish...it’s just a great feeling.”

Giving back to veterans

Captain Dave Marciano, featured on the show, has been particularly involved with WWP. Following season one of ‘Wicked Tuna,’ he partnered with WWP and began to take veterans on his boat for yearly charter fishing trips. As the trips became more popular, he grew the size and number of outings.

“It’s simple for us to take people fishing, but [the veterans] always seem to appreciate it so much,” he told Military Times. “It’s an opportunity to give back a little bit what’s been given freely to me.”

Finding out that he could expand these trips further, Marciano jumped on the opportunity to get other captains involved this year.

As captain of the ship Hard Merchandise, he was joined by Nunez for the episode. Instead of sitting back and enjoying a chartered ride like Marciano typically leads, all of the vets involved in the episode immediately got their hands dirty as part of a commercial fishing crew.

“Jeff did what we do when it’s just me and the kids,” Marciano said, explaining how he integrated into life at sea. “We try to make [the boat] our home for a few days...Some people have no desire to do something like that.”

But Nunez quickly adapted to the experience. “I really felt like I was part of the crew,” he said. “It was so welcoming. I embraced it.”

Both men also described the experience as “exciting” and “unforgettable.”

National Geographic has also donated $30,000 to Wounded Warrior Project, as well as helping bring the captains and veterans together.

A crew of wounded warriors

In addition to Nunez, five other veterans joined the bluefin fishing fleet. Many of the featured vets suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI) while serving and now struggle with post-traumatic stress and other injuries.

Aboard the Fat Tuna are Captain Bob Cook and veteran Timothy Aponte. Aponte served in the military just shy of ten years before he suffered a TBI and other injuries from a rocket propelled grenade. This was his first time fishing for bluefin.

Tim Byrne joined Captain T.J. Ott on the Hot Tuna. He served in 100 combat missions in Afghanistan before returning home and getting involved with WWP.

One couple also competed against each other with rival ship captains Paul Hebert of the Wicked Pissah and Dave Carraro of the FV-Tuna.com. Jeremy and Nicole Lyon met in Afghanistan and sustained TBIs in an explosion that wounded both of them. When they returned home, they married and have been together for four years.

Finally, infantry veteran Chloe Enderton also joined the show. During her first deployment, she was riding in a vehicle that struck an IED, leaving her with physical wounds and a TBI.

When filming wrapped, Marciano said he and the other captains enjoyed the experience working with the veterans.

“It was really neat to see them get an opportunity to get a little more experience with some of the stuff that I was doing,” he said.

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