‘Total disbelief’

‘Total disbelief’

Veteran from the Cape wins boat raffle

Published in Cape Coral Daily Breeze May 29, 2015 issue

Frank DePace

Veteran Frank DePace won the 2015 Wounded Warrior Anglers boat raffle. 

A charitable drawing likely sent a Cape Coral resident reeling as his name was drawn from 4,000 raffle tickets at the Olde Fish House Marina Saturday, making him the winner of the 2015 Wounded Warrior Anglers boat raffle.

The reality of his win hit home Wednesday morning as he signed the papers for his very first boat at Fort Myers Marina.

“Every day I’m coming back down to earth,” Frank DePace said. “It’s just unbelievable.”

He won a 2015 NauticStar 2110 Sport Bay with 150 horsepower four stroke and magic tilt trailer.

Fort Myers Marine General Manager Colinda Helveston sits with Cape Coral resident and veteran Frank DePace on his brand new boat. Also pictured: Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and President Dave Souders, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Vice President Judy Souders and Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Treasurer Tate Hutchinson.

Fort Myers Marine General Manager Colinda Helveston sits with Cape Coral resident and veteran Frank DePace in his brand new boat. Also pictured: Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and President Dave Souders, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Vice President Judy Souders and Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Treasurer Tate Hutchinson.

Tate Hutchinson, Wounded Warrior Anglers co-founder and treasurer, said he could not think of a better person to have won the boat. He said he thinks a lot of people were in tears the night the name was drawn for the boat raffle.

“It was awesome to see a fellow soldier that was there to win it . . . it was pretty awesome and fantastic,” Hutchinson said.

DePace joined the Army in 1966 and served until 1981. He said since he was going to be drafted anyway, he elected to be enlisted giving him the choice of which branch of military to join.

“It was an experience of a lifetime. One that I will never forget,” DePace said.

He and his wife, Marsha, moved to Cape Coral on May 1, 2014 from Connecticut. He heard about the Wounded Warrior Angler organization after meeting President Dave Souders and Capt. Jim Conant at Pineland Marina

“They invited me to come to attend one of their meetings. I did and have been there ever since,” DePace said, who is now a member of the organization. “Being a veteran myself – I fought in Vietnam – it’s an organization that there is a lot of camaraderie and a lot of the individuals know how you feel and we care about each other. It’s a great organization.”

As a way to contribute to the organization, he purchased six boat raffle tickets never thinking he was going to win. When his name was called Saturday evening during the 3rd annual Redfish Shootout in memory of Spec. Michael Plath, he was in “total disbelief.”

Hutchinson, who takes his 10-day yearly vacation around the tournament’s schedule, said the boat raffle is the center point of the organization’s fundraising efforts throughout the year. He said the proceeds from the boat raffle allow the organization to hold the Warrior and Caregiver Retreats, as well as helps pay for a boat to raffle off the following year.

In addition, Hutchinson said the boat is also “wrapped,” portraying the military and all the branches of service, which excites people that were in the military and still are in the military.

DePace said Fort Myers Marine hopes to have his boat ready next Wednesday. He hopes to put the boat in the water that day or Thursday.

Fort Myers Marine General Manager Colinda Helveston sits with Cape Coral resident and veteran Frank DePace on his brand new boat. Also pictured: Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and President Dave Souders and Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Treasurer Tate Hutchinson.

Fort Myers Marine General Manager Colinda Helveston sits with Cape Coral resident and veteran Frank DePace in his brand new boat. Also pictured: Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and President Dave Souders and Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Treasurer Tate Hutchinson.

‘It was pretty uplifting’

‘It was pretty uplifting’

A brand new program was introduced to the Wounded Warrior Anglers organization due to networking Chapter 4 – Mahi Strike Group Commandant Chief Buck McTee initiated with the American Tackle Company International.

“I am a resourceful guy,” the active duty Navy gentleman said. “I used the resources out there. Once we got it going, the guys up there, they were on point with everything.”

McTee began the Wounded Warrior Angler chapter in Fort Lauderdale because of a fellow Wounded Warrior Angler Capt. Jim Conant.

“His story is what moved me and I was like, these are the kind of guys I can sign on with and be okay with it and run with it and be excited about it,” McTee said.

He said his goal with the brand new chapter is bringing out the guys that are dealing with PTSD and injuries and get them into something.

His goal is to “pay it forward.”

One way in paying it forward began the Handcrafted Rod Program, which was held in Oviedo, Florida, Friday, April 10, through Sunday, April 12.

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Don Morse with American Tackle Company International Inc. said the three day event began on Friday, April 10 with an introduction and meet and greet, so everyone had the chance to get to know one another. He said some history, as well as some information about building rods, was also shared that Friday.

Since one of their instructors is a chef, he barbecued a “whole heap of chicken” for everyone to enjoy later that night.

“It was a good time,” Morse said.

The following morning around 8 a.m., 13 warriors of Wounded Warrior Anglers attended the workshop. All of the supplies to build the rods were donated for the event.

“It was excellent, well worth the time. It was great,” Army veteran Kevin Crowder said.

Crowder joined the Army in 2008 because he felt it was something he was supposed to do as an able body to serve at least one term. He served until 2012.

“It felt good to serve,” Crowder said, although it was not always enjoyable all the time. “I made a lot of brothers and I miss a lot of them.”

A sense of accomplishment washed over Crowder as he finished building his rod, especially with how tedious some of the work was.

“It was pretty uplifting,” he said about the want to build something.

The instructors helped the warriors build the rods from start to finish from around 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

“It is a time involved task,” Morse said. “After you do so many it gets easier.”

Crowder said the instructors told them how to build a rod from ground up. He said he absorbed how to build it rather quickly due to the simplified instruction.

“It is something we can carry on and keep going,” Crowder said.

McTee also built a rod during the workshop for his wife. He said when he feels good enough about his product he will present it to another military member during an event.

On Sunday the warriors applied the epoxy clear coat over the thread to finish off the finished product.

Morse said he saw a lot of smiles that Saturday, which was fantastic. He said he also had the pleasure of seeing a lot of the guys sharing their stories one-on-one during the workshop.

Wounded Warrior Anglers Founder and President David Souders said he was thrilled to see many  of the guys  open up to the instructors.

“We had guys opening up to these guys within a couple of hours in teaching them,” he said. “You don’t ever see that. Their guards were down . . . walls and barriers were coming down. It was a phenomenal event.”

The workshop provided the warriors with a new skill they can continue to use.

Morse said if they want to keep going with it they know how to build or rod, or if they do not, they still have a rod that they can show people they built with their own hands.

“I think they will go forward and build some nice rods and supplement their income,” Morse said.

He said although you do not build custom rods to save money, it can be done inexpensively. An individual can purchase all the parts to build a rod for under $60, which will provide the ability to fish for anything.

“Custom building price is more than you pay in the store,” Morse said, adding that when building a rod “you get a rod that performs better than one made in the factory.”

McTee said he cannot say enough great things about the Handcrafted Rod Program. He said he hopes within the next 12 months they will be able to host a rod building event in Southeast Florida

“All these guys spent their whole adult life working for the military,” McTee said working missions, having a purpose and drive to get things done. “They don’t have that camaraderie and the structure (after serving). “We take them and say, ‘hey here is this fishing rod. I need you to build this, here is some instruction and here are guys that will help you.’ I think it’s great.”

Crowder, who lives south of Jacksonville, goes out fishing every chance he gets. He said he now hopes to buy the equipment to build his own rods.

“(I will) start building a few a week or a few a month and see how it goes when I start off,” he said.

Crowder plans on setting up shop in his brother’s garage, so he can invite guys from his Wounded Warrior Anglers chapter to share the knowledge he now knows of building rods. He said one of the goals of attending the workshop was to soak in all the knowledge and pass it on to other guys.

“I’m glad they picked me to pass it on to the other guys,” he said. “I feel pretty confident with it.”

Crowder said his new skill will bring him and his brother closer because he too wants to start building rods.

Morse said they are already in the planning stages of holding another Handcrafted Rod Program event in Matlacha in either September or October.

“I’m definitely looking forward to helping them out as much as we can and working with them with sponsorships,” he said of the Wounded Warrior Anglers organization.

Morse said brainstorming sessions have already begun on creating decals made with the Wounded Warrior Anglers logo with built in USA by a specific wounded warrior’s name.

“With me being an angler and being in the fishing industry, I love seeing something like this geared to fishing,” he said of Wounded Warrior Anglers, which helps guys putting their lives on the line to protect this country. “It’s all I can think about . . . the next step with them.”

Morse said he looks forward to working with the organization because the relationship he has already made with the guys is spectacular.

“I’m looking forward to keeping the communication open and doing some fishing with them,” he said.

Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc. was founded in 2012 by David and his wife Judy Souders. Its mission is to “help rehabilitate the mind, body and soul of all service members who have been injured, wounded or disabled in the line of duty no matter what their era of service.”

“I really love my country”

Army intelligence photog to speak Saturday

Published in Cape Coral Daily Breeze March 13, 2015 issue

A U.S. Army intelligence photographer, who served in the 1st Infantry Division “The Big Red One,” will speak at the Northwest Regional Library on Saturday about her experience.

Rebeca Brown, who moved to Southwest Florida from Los Angeles 10 months ago, joined the Army in 1980 and served until 1984.

“I wanted to join the Army because I wanted to travel the world and take photos,” she said. “I really love my country.”

Brown recalls that one of the biggest issues in the 1980s was a couple female congresswomen saying women should not be a part of the military.

“I was raised that you could do whatever you want in life,” she said. “I was part of the feminist movement that helped women work in nontraditional positions.”

As an intelligence photographer Brown had many jobs. She flew in planes and helicopters and took aerial photographs of the terrain for the government, as well as photographs of the ground terrain in auxiliary tanks.

Brown flew in the SR71, which had cameras in the belly of the plane. She recalls flying over hostile combatants while in the SR71.

“You put on this jumpsuit and put on a diaper,” she said. “In a blink of an eye you could go anywhere to take photos.”

Some of the aerials were, both in the air and on the ground. of the Russian borders. She also took pictures of large community areas through which people would walk.

Large bodies of water and related terrain were also photographed, in case troops had to go through.

One of the experiences that really stuck out from Brown was while she was stationed in Germany. She spent time with the auxiliary unit riding in tanks to take photos.

“If we had a conflict and NATO had to move in the troops, we would need to know the depth of how to get our troops over,” Brown said.

During that time she also took aerial reconnaissance over the Berlin Wall.

The veteran also enjoyed taking photographs of Hitler’s bunkers. She said not only did she have to take photographs of the artwork and other common items, but she also had to make duplicates of his horrible crimes for the government.

Some of those photographs included the guillotine and shooting of Jewish people against the wall.

Brown, who had top secret clearance, said there were times she was not in uniform when she went to other countries.

The government would drop a portable photo lab by helicopter wherever she was, so she could process the film and give it to one of the generals.

“It was a good experience, an awesome experience for me,” Brown said.

After the military, she became a law enforcement officer for the state of California. From there she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, as well as a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business.

While in California she worked as a specialist with children between the ages of 5 to 18 who had signs of becoming serial killers. Brown said she would teach them empathy, love and how to connect to the community, so they would have some type of connection.

“Then I became a program director with Phoenix Health in Los Angeles for the probation department,” she said.

Brown created and implemented programs that dealt with such issues as substance abuse and cognitive behavior. She said she would be contacted to go to the prisons. Brown also would hire staff for youth camps and teach them how to connect with kids and mentor them, so they would sustain goals to attend college.

She is currently a member of the Cape Coral VFW Post #8463, Cape Coral VFW Post #8463 Honor Guard, American Legion Post #90 and the American Legion Riders Florida Chapter #90. She is also a volunteer at the Pine Island Museum.

“Eventually I will start again, either try to work with veterans and kids,” Brown said.

Brown will speak at the Northwest Regional Library at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 14.

“I am hoping I get a good turnout,” she said.

In addition to sharing her experience, Brown also wants to share the message that as long as you dream about want you want in the future, you always have a goal to work for. She said it is also very important to teach kids about patriotism.

Brown is speaking on behalf of the SW FL. Military Museum & Library.

‘We believe in our country’

I was excited when my editor assigned me this article a few weeks ago. Due to my involvement in the nonprofit organization, Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc., I have a very special place in my heart for all the men and women who have served this country. I say this because I have talked with many veterans because of my involvement with the organization and have a better understanding of what they have gone through, as well as what their family has gone through.

I really enjoyed talking with Councilwoman Nora Ellen about Operation Welcome Home, a program she brough to Chandler, Arizona. I was shocked and excited when she sent me this email:

“I want to express my deep heart-felt gratitude for the outstanding article you have written about Operation Welcome Home. I appreciate the article was on the front page and so well written in your description of the purpose of the program. I know we had people come to the ceremony Monday because of your timely article.
 
I am cc-ing Rep. J.D. Mesnard in this email to thank you for giving him the credit due of encouraging me to bring this program to Chandler. We are both very grateful to you.”
She left me speechless . . .

Operation Welcome Home honors Chandler veterans

Published in April 19, 2014 SanTan Sun News

U.S. Army Reserves Maj. Rob Polston has left Chandler once since he moved to the area 10 years ago. It was for a 15-month activation that included six months in Afghanistan for Operation Joint Endeavor.

Chandler resident Maj. Rob Polston spent six months in Afghanistan with Operation Joint Endeavor in 2012.

Chandler resident Maj. Rob Polston
spent six months in Afghanistan with
Operation Joint Endeavor in 2012.

“It was tough to leave my wife and kids,” he says of the experience in 2012. “My son was 2 years old and my daughter was 3 months old. That was a little challenging.”

Polston is among the handful of veterans who have been honored by Operation Welcome Home, an initiative introduced by the City of Chandler last year.

When Councilwoman Nora Ellen took office in January 2013, her goal was to bring the program to Chandler. Her son, Rep. J.D. Mesnard, brought the program to her attention. She says the program is important because veterans and their families sacrifice so much for Americans’ lives and freedoms.

“I want to honor and recognize that,” Ellen says.

She says some of the soldiers do not make it back home, while others see their friends die or get injured, and face traumatic situations themselves.

“They are our heroes,” Ellen says.

The program has a special place in Ellen’s heart. There is a long line of veterans in her family, including her father, who served in World War II. Five nieces and nephews as well as a brother-in-law served in the military at the same time.

Debuting initiative

The first Operation Welcome Home took place on Nov. 4, 2013, honoring four veterans, including Polston, attracting about 300 onlookers.

“It was overwhelming,” Polston says.

He heard about the program through the Chandler Veterans Memorial; he sits on its fundraising board.

“I found out through the board that Chandler was looking for veterans who have returned from overseas,” Polston says.

Nominees for Operation Welcome Home must be a Chandler resident and a veteran who served away from home during the last two or three years or are leaving soon. Four veterans are honored during each ceremony.

“We want to make it very personalized for them, so it is not a mass ceremony,” Ellen says.

The evening was special to Polston.

On Nov. 4, he arrived at a meeting place, only to be greeted by a limo waiting for all of them. The Patriot Guard Riders said a prayer before the veterans were escorted to the Chandler City Council Chambers.

Polston was overwhelmed as he stepped out of the limo in uniform, seeing hundreds of people cheering them on and waving American flags.

“It’s something you never really expect; you don’t think you really deserve,” he explains. “No veteran chooses to go to a combat zone or deploy overseas because they think they are going to get the recognition. We go to serve our country and do something that we feel like we need to do. We believe in our country. We know we are going to leave family at home. You understand that and take that into account. To be appreciated for it publicly was humbling and unexpected.”

Once the crowd greeted the veterans, the ceremony continued inside the chambers.

Polston received more than $300 in gift cards and goodies before being treated to dinner at Floridino’s Pizza and Pasta.

“It is really cool to be honored in that way,” he says. “I want to thank the City of Chandler and the council members, especially Councilwoman Nora Ellen. I look forward to honoring more veterans for serving overseas, especially those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Ellen says the support the council receives from the community enables the governing body to provide gifts for the veterans.

“Some of them can really use the money,” she says. “They come back and some of them have a hard time finding a job.”

Polston works at Intel as the program manager in its efforts to recruit veterans. He still serves as a major in the Army reserves.

The next ceremony, which the community is invited to attend, will start outside the chambers at 6 p.m. Monday, April 21.

Nomination forms, as well as sponsorship forms, can be found at www. chandleraz.gov/patriotism.

A veteran’s words

“I think the organization, as of right now, is perfect,” Donald Cyr of Vero Beach said Thursday afternoon.

That organization is Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc., a nonprofit that was founded in 2012 by Dave and Judy Souders.  Its mission is to “help rehabilitate the mind, body and soul of all service members who have been injured, wounded or disabled in the line of duty no matter what their era of service.”

Donald, who is currently in his 30’s, served in the Marine Corps., as well as the Army for a total of 7 1/2 years. He said joining the Marines was something he thought about and looked forward to while in high school.

“I got into the Marines and then the war was about to begin and I wanted to be a part of it,” he said, adding that the Army took him first.

He left the Marine Corps in January 2003 and “jumped” into the Army in March 2003. Donald was deployed three times, all in Baghdad, Iraq.

Luckily, he did not suffer any physical injuries during his service. With that said, he still suffers from the trauma of the war, the emotional and psychological aspect. Donald said seeing his friends go through the whole process of getting injured was and still is difficult.

It’s an ongoing battle, one that he said will be there forever.

When talking about his service, the word “camaraderie” was expressed on many occasions. Donald said the Marine Corps and the Army are like two brothers – you feel a part of a family, a rather large family.

Donald is still in contact with those he went to war with. He said he moved to Vero Beach because of a friend he served with. That friend also introduced him to Judy and Dave about a year ago.

battle of matlachaThis is where the beauty of Wounded Warrior Anglers of America comes into play . . .  this organization is another form of a family, one that continues to improve the lives of everyone it touches.

Donald said it is great to see and meet the two people who run the organization – Judy and Dave. He expressed that many times you do not know the people who are behind the organization.

“They are a little more homey,” he said of Judy and Dave. “It feels like family to me, just because they are part of that organization. They are actually a part of it and they are there and making sure things are running well. I think it’s a really good way to do it. Other organizations you have programs that you really don’t know what’s going on.”

The homey, family oriented atmosphere that Judy and Dave provide, was the reason Donald wanted to show his daughter what Wounded Warrior Anglers is all about.

Donald had the privilege of experiencing the program Wounded Warrior Anglers offers first hand again last month with his 14-year-old daughter. He was treated to a two-day retreat out on the water fishing with Dave and his daughter.

He recalls those two days being therapeutic and very relaxing.

“It can also be a lot of fun, especially when you are catching fish,” Donald said.

He shared that the first time he was taken out on a retreat he enjoyed the ability to talk to his fellow veterans about anything – life in general – what’s going on in each of their lives.

“That’s really what it is all about,” Donald said.

Although he did not catch anything last month, his daughter did – two red fish and a couple of catfish. Donald said after that day, his daughter told him she understood why he goes fishing, that it was so nice and calm.

“That’s why I wanted to bring her out there,” he said, adding he also wanted that bonding time with his daughter.

Before we ended our conversation, Donald expressed that he wanted to thank everyone that is part of the organization.

“I know Judy and Dave work very hard to put this stuff together and also the people that you don’t see that make all the effort as well,” he said. “I want to thank them . . . let them know I am thankful.”

This is just one wounded warrior the organization has touched. These stories warm my heart and give me a sense of joy because some of their trauma was taken away for an extended amount of time.

Thank you Donald for your service, thank you for fighting for our freedom.