Thirteen wounded warriors, seven caregivers, six children and one guide dog, Sweet Pea, were treated to the Wounded Warrior Anglers retreat in June, providing a day of relaxation for everyone involved.
David Souders, co-founder of Wounded Warrior Anglers Inc,. said they brought the wounded warriors, caregivers and children into town Friday, June 21, where they were lodged at The Angler's Inn in Matlacha. He said some of the families traveled from all over Florida.
Everyone was treated to dinner at Barnhill's Seafood Spot Friday night for the captain's dinner. The next morning, everyone met at the Olde Fish House Marina for a buffet breakfast at 7 a.m. before the rod and reel presentation began around 8 a.m.
Thirteen wounded warriors, seven caregivers, six children and one guide dog, Sweet Pea, were treated to the Wounded Warrior Ang.
The captains who took the wounded warriors out for a day of fishing included Souders, Tony Rogers, Guy Lee, Jim Conant and Tom McNeal.
The June retreat was the first time Conant was a volunteer captain for the wounded warriors, which he said he felt nervous about because he does not typically open up to people.
Conant served in the Army for 22 years..
"During the dinner that took place, I met the two warriors I would be taking out, Matt and Rob, and almost instantly we started conversing about fishing and military experiences," he said. "The next day out fishing, although the fish bites were hard to find, we still managed to carry on conversation over a lot of different topics, all the while catching several different fish species."
Conant said he believes it was a relaxing day for everyone.
"I believe all in all that it was a relaxing day for all three of us and they were able to see what the Wounded Warrior Angler program is all about sharing our experiences and not be judged by someone who doesn't know what service men have been through on their tour of duty," he said.
The part that stood out the most during the retreat was fishing with the guys. Conant said the guys went from not really opening up to a new feeling of lifelong friends and brotherhood. The expressions of the guys catching good size fish was also a memory he will take with him.
"I remember them saying they definitely want more fishing trips with Wounded Warrior Anglers," he said. "This event means a lot to me since I don't really talk to people that much. I moved down here two years ago and other than one Vietnam era veteran (snowbird) neighbor my only other friends are through the Wounded Warrior Angler program."
"All boats were loaded up with all the wounded warriors, one caregiver, one child and Sweet Pea and left to go fishing by 8:30 a.m.," David said.
Once the boats left, Judy Souders, co-founder of Wounded Warrior Anglers, took five children to WildChild Gallery where they had a private art session with owner Peggy McTeague. The children made beautiful pieces of art for themselves before Judy took them back to the Olde Fish House for lunch before going out on an ECO kayak tour with Lisa Dence, operating manager of the Olde Fish House Marina. The kayak rental was donated by Skinny Water Kayaks.
Dence said she took five girls out during the kayak outing.
"We paddled for about two hours, which is great considering the ages were 6, 8, 9, 14 and 15," she said.
As they ventured out on the water, Dence said they talked about the hobbies they each enjoy, as well as what they would like to do when they were older, school, music and everyday life.
"The one thing I mostly focused on was not their family life or their dad's being in the service, but five little girls that needed some laughter and fun," Dence said. "Just like the dads come for a stress reliever, these children need the same."
She said the Olde Fish House is honored to be a part of the Wounded Warrior Angler organization.
"You can't make everything they have endured over the years of service go away, but we can make a difference even if it is only for a weekend, a day or a hour. Hopefully when they are down and going through a tough time they can look back at the time that was spent in Matlacha with a community that cares and is thankful to have had to opportunity to thank them all for their service," she said.
Dence said she is grateful that Jim Normandin decided to organize S.O.S. because it allowed the community with the pleasure of meeting David and Judy.
"So my hat goes off to Jim Normandin because that event planted the seed for the relationship between Wounded Warrior Anglers and the community of Matlacha," she said.
While the kids were treated to their time of relaxation, the caregivers were taken to Spa 33 for pampering of their own.
Nadine Southall, co-owner of Spa 33, said they had the pleasure of taking care of six women on June 22.
"Each lady received a massage, facial and manicure, along with a professional make-up application applied by Joanne Catlin," she said.
In addition, each of the women received a one of a kind bracelet that was made and donated by Barbara Jameson and a catered lunch by the Olde Fish House Marina.
Crystal Timmons, one of the caregivers who attended the event, said she heard about Wounded Warrior Anglers from a military wife who had attended the retreat before.
"The spa was wonderful," she said. "But I liked that the whole family had fun and we got to meet some pretty wonderful people."
Timmons husband, Robert, served in the Army for eight years.
"A group like this really means a lot to us because it is hard to meet people who are in the same boat as we are after leaving the military," she said. "It's hard living with PTSD. These guys need all the support they can get. Judy and Dave truly are one of a kind."
Timmons said her husband wants to try and volunteer with Wounded Warrior Anglers.
"Nadine and I came from medical backgrounds and we know the stress, time and dedication it takes to be a full-time caregiver," Tammey Lynch, co-owner of Spa 33 said. "Unfortunately most caretakers do not take the time to do special things for themselves or feel guilty for doing so. They do for everyone else, and we wanted to show our gratitude to these families and treat them to day of well over due relaxation. A day that they do nothing for anyone else."
Southall and Lynch said the caregivers' husbands have served this country for our freedom and thus these families have sacrificed so much.
"So we feel privileged to be able to close our doors and treat these ladies to a day at the spa and hopefully help eliminate some if the stress they are feeling," they said. "It is truly such an amazing organization and we are proud to be part of it and look forward to having many more events like this in the future."
David said the retreat is very important for the wounded warriors, caregivers and children.
"This can be some of the only times that the warriors, caregivers and the children get a chance to let their guard down and except help from strangers because they feel that they are part of a bigger family again," he said.
The next retreat will be held Aug. 23 and 24.
"We have learned that the little bit that we do is not enough and that we need to continue to expand our service," David said. "We would like to thank the people, businesses, Matlacha, community of Pine Island, Mayor John Sullivan and the city of Cape Coral and Lee County for their continued support."