Ten Wounded Warrior Anglers and seven caregivers attended the Warrior and Caregiver Retreat in Matlacha this past weekend. The group met at Olde Fish House Marina.
David Souder, co-founder of Wounded Warrior Angler's Inc., said "Tomorrow, when we go fishing, we'll have five boats going out. Tonight we'll have dinner, talk, get to know one another and explain what we will be doing tomorrow. We'll explain who will be in each boat, who their captain's are and let the caregivers get to know one another."
Caregivers can be a wife, sister, children, anyone the warrior relies on for care.
Wounded Warrior weekend participants
From left, standing, David Sounder, Reggie Allen, Jim Conant, Jay Langlais, Mike Blount, Louisa Blount, Jad Ferrell, Albert Dethlefen, Greg Tabacvynski, Colleen Tabacvynski, Tony Rogers, James Brennan and Antion LaChappelle; and kneeling, from left, Keith Neal, Stuart Evans, Nick Smith and Guy Lee.
The day of fishing began by having breakfast Saturday morning at Olde Fish House Marina. After breakfast every angler was presented with a fishing rod and reel. The equipment was donated by James and Beth Brennan, owners of Center Bait and Tackle on Pine Island.
"My wife, Beth, opened the business in 2010," Brennan said. "She was raised here on Pine Island and started the business as a hobby. It's worked out well and we wanted to give something back to the community and help the vets at the same time. We carry a variety of tackle, lures, bait, knives and just about anything needed to fish so we donated the fishing gear. Hopefully the anglers will continue to fish in years to come."
Once breakfast was over and the warriors boarded the boats to go fishing, the caregivers were treated to a day at the spa where they were pampered with manicures, pedicures, facials, massages and have their makeup done by a professional - all provided by Spa 33.
"We opened Spa 33 about a year ago," owner Nadine Southall said. "Actually my brother-in-law got us connected with Judy and David when he overheard a conversation they were having here at the Olde Fish House. We got involved because what these families go through is difficult for the rest of us to understand with this post traumatic stress syndrome. I know with previous events that the caregivers would spend the day going to the shops on Matlacha and I thought why not step it up a notch by providing our services to the caregivers.
"We provide a full spa treatment: hair, makeup and the whole works," Southall continued. "The Olde Fish House brings a catered lunch and the best part is that these ladies get to spend time with each other. They are all having similar experiences and it gives them an opportunity to share with someone going through the same problems.
"What's really remarkable is the complete transformation between the time they come to the spa and the time they leave," Southall said. "When Judy walks them over after breakfast, you can see they are just tired, slumped over and worn down. When they walk back they were uplifted and dancing. It really makes you feel good to see what you can do."
Keith Neal is currently serving in the U.S. Navy as a recruiter in Port Charlotte, Fla. He has served for 22 years and is nearing retirement. Neal got involved about one year ago at a fund-raising tournament and began taking warriors out fishing.
"I'm just here to help Dave and Judy out," Neal said. "They need all of the help they can get. The more help he can get the more veteran's they can help."
Jim Conant served in the Army for 22 years. Conant joined the Army right after high school, left for two years and then rejoined. He served in the first Gulf War.
"This makes me feel good," Conant said. "I really appreciate what Dave and Judy are doing. I am very reserved, I don't talk to people that much but this has opened me up a bit. I've learned I enjoy being around vets and fishing with vets. This has helped me a lot."
Later Saturday afternoon, once the warriors returned from fishing, they were joined by their caregivers for a fish fry and to share stories about the fish they caught.
Souder, who served in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield, said Wounded Warrior Angler's reaches out to veterans of every war.
"But most have come from the more recent wars of Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. All of us on this trip were from those wars," Souder said. "Warriors come to Wounded Warrior Angler's Inc. in a variety of ways. Some are referred by the VA, some through other vets and some find us at various events we have in the area."
This is the seventh "big" event for the Wounded Warrior Angler's plus a number of smaller trips. In the near future they will begin kayak trips.
"They all caught some great fish and everyone had a great time," Souder said. "Our goal is to create a camaraderie among the vets and the families and I think we accomplish that. All in all everyone had a great time and some of these new friendships will be friends for a long time to come. They all share the common bond of war."
The Sauders said they would like to thank Chris Sanders, Lisa and Darrell Dence, Tammy Wench, James and Dee Brennan, and Nadine Southall and staff at Spa 33 plus all the captains and first mates.
For additional information, visit www.WoundedWarriorAnglers.org