‘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.”

‘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 year of changing lives

June 1 marked the one year anniversary for Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, a nonprofit organization that is changing the lives of our service men and women and their caregivers.

I had the honor of meeting Dave for the first time last June at an event held in Matlacha, FL. His vision and excitement for an organization that is near and dear to his heart poured out of him as he told me what his mission was and what he hoped to accomplish.

battle of matlachaAn excerpt from my blog “Hearts of Gold” . . .

The concept of the organization formed after David was injured in 2008 while he was in the service. The serenity of fishing, along with his wife Judy, helped him get through the difficult times during his injury and healing process.

Dave served in the Marines from 1985-1992, before going into the reserves from 1992-1995. He then served in the Air National Guard in 2006 and medically retired on May 31, 2012. In 2008, he was injured while in the service.

Military life runs very deep in this gentleman’s family, due to members of his family serving since the Revolutionary War.

His love of fishing and passion for helping others turned into something bigger while he was rehabbing himself through injury. Dave always says since he is out on the water fishing, why not bring other wounded warriors with him to share the sense of relaxation and escape from every and any stressor that goes hand-in-hand with an injury.

End of excerpt … which was written on Jan. 4.

Soon after meeting Dave, I met his wife Judy on another assignment where a lifelong friendship instantly formed.

This woman has been Dave’s caretaker for more than 20 years, which in itself is a beautiful thing.

I have experienced so many great moments, so many great conversations and met so many incredible wounded warriors and their caregivers since that initial conversation with the co-founders. My life has become enriched in numerous ways, all because I am a part of an organization that does so much for others.

Now looking back, I am proud to say I have experienced almost every step of the way during this past year with the co-founders of this wonderful organization. Their “hearts of gold” are constantly forming new ides to continue to help these men and women who have kept us safe while serving in one of the branches of our military.

I remember receiving a phone call from Judy many months ago sharing an exciting phone call Dave received out of the blue. That phone call led to a very special day for this couple last week.

A tremendous contribution was given to this organization a day before their first year anniversary, so Judy and Dave can further help those in need.

Wounded Warrior Anglers Member Guy Lee, Caregiver Rosa Vazquez, Wounded Warrior Angel Vazquez, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder David Souders, Seafarers International Union Port Agent Kris Hopkins, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder Judy Souders, Wounded Warrior Anglers Board Member Tony “The Judge” Rogers.

Wounded Warrior Anglers Member Guy Lee, Caregiver Rosa Vazquez, Wounded Warrior Angel Vazquez, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder David Souders, Seafarers International Union Port Agent Kris Hopkins, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder Judy Souders, Wounded Warrior Anglers Board Member Tony “The Judge” Rogers.

Seafarers International Union Port Agent Kris Hopkins donated $20,000 to Wounded Warrior Anglers, funds collected from a tournament they held at their school in Maryland earlier this year.I decided to call Kris, so I could interview him for an article I was working on for the Eagle. I wanted to share with the entire community what took place at the Olde Fish House Marina on Friday.

A quote that stood out to me during our interview, one that I included in the article . . .

“I think it is important that we recognize the people that have served our country and became injured and critically disabled,” Hopkins said. “It is important that we give back to them.”

This donation, this generous offer, all came about because Seafarers International Union Executive Board Member George Tricker decided to make Wounded Warrior Anglers the recipient of the inaugural event.

Dave and Judy said they were initially excited because Seafarers International Union wanted to include some of their wounded warriors in the tournament – a day for these men and women to spend out on the water fishing.

Never in their wildest dreams did they expect to receive a donation, let alone a donation of that magnitude.

When I talked to Judy and Dave Saturday they were still speechless from the donation.

“We still are really overwhelmed with the generosity of what these folks have done for the origination,” Judy said in a quote that was added in the Pine Island Eagle article.

Judy and Dave’s voices were filled with so much emotion and pure joy . . . Although we were not talking face-to-face, I could hear the smilies spread across their faces, the smile that remained during our entire conversation.

This donation will only help them further serve the wounded warriors and caregivers during their retreat. The money will allow them to continue to buy rods and reels, a gift to the men and women to take home once they are done with their fishing outing, as well as covering the cost of housing while they are in town.

The Warrior and Caregiver Retreat is a beautiful event that brings together individuals while treating them to a stress free day. My heart is always filled with extreme joy after attending one of these functions because of the laughter, conversations and friendships that are formed.

I truly look forward to witnessing what transpires during the Wounded Warrior Anglers second year, especially now that I am a board member. It’s amazing to be a part of something that is incredibly special, something that brings so much joy to an individuals life who has suffered so much while keeping us safe.

Here is too many more years of helping others and expanding this wonderful organization, Wounded Warrior Anglers.

“Changing lives one warrior at a time.”

For more information visit http://www.woundedwarrioranglers.org.

Heartwarming experience

What an emotional, gratifying, heartwarming, special, spectacular day yesterday.

Men and women were invited to Matlacha this past weekend to take part in the Warrior and Caregiver Retreat, two days put on by Wounded Warrior Anglers to treat the warriors and caregivers to a stress free day.

Friday night kicked off with a captain’s dinner at Miceli’s Restaurant in Matlacha to provide the warriors and caregivers with the opportunity to meet the men who were taking them out on the water the following day. As everyone gathered around the table and enjoyed pizza, new friendships were formed. Conversations were had, laughter was shared and life long memories were created.

It’s truly amazing to witness how complete strangers turn into instant friends in a matter of minutes for the simple reason of them sharing a common experience – serving in the military.

Saturday morning I arrived at the Olde Fish House Marina minutes before a presentation was had by Tim, who is a part of Bimimi Bay Outfitters. He presented the warriors with rods and reels. The night before the warriors received sunglasses for their fishing trip.

Dave Souders, co-founder of Wounded Warrior Anglers, said the rod and reel is a tool for their own therapy, so they can continue to fish beyond the day of the retreat.

As all the warriors were called upon to receive their rod and reel the excitement of fishing began to fill the space.

Once completed, the captains and warriors filled one of eight boats that were stocked with what they needed. Their spouses, or significant others, kissed them goodbye and sent them on their way wishing a great day of fishing.

As everyone became settled the engines were turned on and the boats departed one at a time. The smiles and glows that filled these warrior’s faces were priceless. The captains also shared the same excitement.

The amazing part of that moment, is all of these captains donated their time and boats Saturday because they all believe in the organization’s cause.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGeorge who joined the festivities for the first time Saturday, as a captain, said the experience of taking the warriors out on the boat was “awesome.” He instantly became hooked and is looking forward to the next retreat.

As George sat there and shared stories of their day out on the water, a permanent smile remained on his face as he shared how excited Paul, one of the warriors on his boat, was the entire time they were fishing. Although Jim, another warrior that was aboard the boat, goes fishing quite often, George said Jim shared that it was the best day he has had on the water since October.

Those reasons alone are what captures the beauty of what the organization is all about. These generous captains created a stress free day for these warriors who battle with so many injuries and PTSD. Because of these captains, these men and women who fought for our freedom and served our country, forget about their worries while focusing on catching fish after fish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA short time after they left the docks, five caregivers and Dave’s wife, Judy, also a co-founder of the organization, walked to Spa 33 for their day of relaxation.

Nadine and Tammey, owners of Spa 33 in Matlacha, close their business for the day to treat caregivers to a manicure, facial, massage, make-up, as well as a having their hair styled. These owners wanted to take care of these caregivers because they take care of the warriors who kept us safe. They shared that so many times when women are taking care of their loved ones they often times forget to take care of themselves.

The day, I believe was just as touching to Nadine and Tammey, as well as the rest of their staff, as it was to all of the caregivers. What huge hearts these women have. Once again because of their generosity, life long memories were created as some of the women experienced massages for the first time.

Again, these women who met for the first time this weekend shared an instant connection, which sparked nonstop conversations of their husbands, and boyfriend, as well as the experiences they had when they were deployed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was such a positive environment that had continuous laughter as the women one-by-one became more relaxed as they were treated to personalize pampering.

The word “thank you” was shared more than once as the afternoon began to sink in for these caregivers.

Although a day of pampering was had, Danielle said she enjoyed the conversation the most.

“The conversation was my favorite,” she said. “I’m talking to adults and not kids.”

Many of the women expressed that they were more excited about their husband and boyfriend being out on the water fishing. They all said it was good for them because many times they do not share the experiences they had while in the service.

This is the second time I have spent the day with the men and women who were brought in from either Lee County, Collier County or other areas of Florida for the retreat. The day pulls on my heart as I witness just how much the day means to them . . . how as the day goes on they become more relaxed and their daily worries disappear.

I am so fortunate to be a part of such a wonderful organization that truly helps others. I am also honored to have been asked to serve on their board.

battle of matlachaThe conversations I had with these men and women will stay with me forever, especially one I had after the men returned from their fishing trip.

The moments I shared with Angel, who served in the Army for 26 ½ years, tugged at my heart. As we sat there, he shared a few stories of when he was deployed, which truly meant a lot to me.

Before I said goodbye, I thanked him. He instantly asked what did I do? I said you served our country and fought for our freedom. The emotion he shared at that moment will be a part of me forever. It still gives me goose bumps as I sit and write about it now. These men and women who join the service do not do it anticipating a thank you from us civilians, but rather because something called them to that job.

The honesty in Angel’s eyes touched me in a way I cannot explain. I told him just know that you are appreciated before I shook his hand once again.

Although I will never know what these men and women experienced while they served our country, Wounded Warrior Anglers continously provides me with plenty of opportunities to thank them for what they have done.

Judy and Dave have created something special. Because of this special couple, these men and women’s circle of friends continues to grow, which in itself is a beautiful thing because it is another support system that will be with them forever.