“That event itself was life changing”

The life of one medically retired United States Marine changed forever after coming into contact with the nonprofit organization Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc.

“I believe it’s an outstanding organization that is perfect right now for the pulse of America and the veteran community,” Peter Paskewicz, a Cape Coral, Florida resident, said. “It’s a little niche not found out there.”

Approximately six months ago, Paskewicz paid a visit to his local bait store, which resulted in an invitation to talk to the organization after asking about other veterans in the area that enjoyed fishing. He said he happened to be in the store when Dave Souders, co-founder of the organization, was also there.

“That is basically how I really got connected,” Paskewicz said.

He joined the Marines and served for three years during the first Gulf Wars from 1990 to 1993.

“I was with some very outstanding people and I know that the Marines made a positive influence on my life,” he said. “I wish I could go back. I love it.”

Paskewicz sustained lower extremity injuries, some of which include a lower back injury from a fall and a shattered hip.

He said since he has some physical problems, he wanted to get to know other veterans who liked to fish, a passion he found when he was a youngster.

“I enjoy the environment,” Paskewicz said of why he loves fishing. “I believe we are connected to the water in one way. If the water is healthy, I believe the rest of the environment is healthy.”

Before medically retiring from the service, he said fishing had always been his most private and personal time where he could reflect back on the good in his life, as well as allow all the negative things to fade away.

As a wounded warrior who loves fishing, Wounded Warrior Anglers was a perfect match for this gentleman.

battle of matlachaThe organization helps its warriors by taking them out on the water for a day of fishing, an outing that promotes a friendly and peaceful environment to help warriors heal.

“I think the Wounded Warrior Anglers provides a platform that is easy for people to meet and greet one another,” Paskewicz said.

He said the commonality and disability portion of the organization really brings everything together, making Wounded Warrior Anglers what it is today.

He said after leaving the service, fishing provided a new kind of therapy.

“It made me feel like I am still capable of doing things, still capable of accomplishing goals,” Paskewicz said. “It gives me a sense of achievement.”

Wounded Warrior Anglers holds a few retreats throughout the year that invites wounded warriors and their caregivers to Matlacha, Florida, for a day of relaxation on the water fishing, or at Spa 33, with others who have gone through similar experiences.

“That was a very important day for me and my family,” Paskewicz said of the retreat he attended about two months ago. “I had been struggling with medications and pain for about six and a half years and not feeling very good about fishing or anything.”

Once this wounded warrior received an invitation to his first retreat, it provided him with the freedom to go out fishing, while knowing he was not alone, knowing he was going to be with other wounded warriors.

“That event itself was life changing for me,” he said. “I have a whole new attitude. It was absolutely what I needed.”

That single day of camaraderie, that one day of sharing a love of fishing with others, has kept positive thoughts flowing through Paskewicz.

“I’m very grateful for the Wounded Warriors and I feel strongly that it is something really needed in our communities today for our veterans and community members as well,” he said. “It brings veterans closer to the community and the community closer to the veterans. I think it is an outstanding platform.”

Paskewicz recently volunteered at the organization’s 2nd annual Redfish Poker Fishing Championship, in memory of Sgt. John R. Pestel, last month. He said he provided a helping hand in the morning to set things up and whatever else was needed to show support.

“I was approached by at least 100 people that day, all thanking me for my service,” he said.

Those words touched this Marine.

“It was an honor,” Paskewicz said. “It made me feel proud and glad I served for people like them. That was a very special day in itself also. The civilians got to interact with the veterans and I think it was great

‘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.

New chapters take off for WWA

Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc. was founded in battle of matlacha2012 by Dave and his wife Judy Souders in an effort to help all American military veterans cope with their stress management and PTSD therapy.

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.

Judy, his wife and caregiver, experienced first hand what our wounded warriors have and still are going through.

The nonprofit organization is a nationally chartered public charity.

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.” The organization also “actively supports the wounded warrior’s caregivers and their immediate family.”

The nonprofit organization recently added two new chapters to the cause, which in turn is helping more of our wounded warriors.

First Chapter: The “Matlacha Redfish Regiment”

 Chapter 001, The “Matlacha Redfish Regiment,” was nationally chartered and formed on Feb. 10, 2014. David is the commandant and James Conant is the executive officer of the chapter.

“Being a wounded warrior myself, it’s great to be with other veterans,” Jim said about the camaraderie they all share. “It’s a great thing to help out each other and be around people that you have a lot in common with.”

Matlacha Redfish Regiment Wounded Warrior Angler Chapter Executive Officer Jim Conant.

Matlacha Redfish Regiment Wounded Warrior Angler Chapter Executive Officer Jim Conant.

Jim was in the U.S. Army for 22 years before retiring in June 2010. He said all the men in his family are veterans, which is one of the reasons he joined the service.His involvement in Wounded Warrior Anglers began 13 months ago after meeting Dave at a booth he had set up at the Taste of Pine Island.

The chapter got going this month when it held its first bimonthly meeting on March 10. The meetings are held at the Olde Fish House Marina on Matlacha because of the relaxed atmosphere.

Jim said they have about 65 members so far in the Matlacha chapter.

Disabled veterans can join the chapter for free by logging onto http://www.woundedwarrioranglers.com. He said they are waving the fee for veterans for a year to get more people involved.

In addition to the bi-monthly meeting, Jim said the chapter is also holding an internal fishing tournament.

“It’s a great team building event,” he said, adding that the tournament draws the members closer.

The first internal fishing tournament will be held on Saturday, April 5 for the members. Jim said they currently have eight boats participating. After the kind of fish was drawn for the tournament, a few more captains came onboard because the fish can be found in deeper waters.

He said every fishing tournament members will be paired up with different teams, so everyone has a chance to meet new people.

The first place winner of the tournament will fly the Wounded Warrior Angler flag on their boat every time they are out on the water.

With Jim recently earning his captain’s license, as well as being retired, he said he takes one or two veterans out at a time two to four times a week.

Second Chapter: “Port Charlotte/North Port Area”

The second chapter is currently underway for the Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc. organization due to it working towards nationally chartering Chapter 002.

Wounded Warrior Anglers of America President David Souders and Keith Neal.

Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc. Founder David Souders and Port Charlotte/North Port area chapter commandant Keith Neal.

“It’s a great cause to be involved with,” Keith Neal said, who is the commandant of the second chapter. “I couldn’t think of anything better to do.”

The second chapter, “Port Charlotte/North Port Area,” will cover Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte, Englewood, Bradenton, North Port, Sarasota and Venice. Once the chapter receives more members and sponsorships it will go full blast.

There are currently 16 Wounded Warrior Angler members living in the Charlotte County area. Keith said veterans who live in the area can join the Wounded Warrior Angler chapter by visiting, http://www.woundedwarrioranglers.org.

Once an individual logs onto the website and enters what city they live in, he said, they will be assigned to the chapter out of his area.“We want to keep continuing and expanding it further,” Keith said of Wounded Warrior Anglers.

“We don’t want to change anything. We are hoping to expand it even more to help more individuals and gain more awareness.”

His hope with this chapter is to grow more awareness about the organization, hold more functions and help wounded warrior’s cope with their issues. One of those coping mechanisms, of course is taking wounded warriors out on the water.

Right now, Keith, as well as some other captains are volunteering their time and boats to take the warriors out fishing.

Keith said he first started volunteering with Wounded Warrior Anglers a year and a half ago after he heard about the organization through a friend.

Keith will retired from the United Sates Navy at the end of August after 22 1/2 years of service. He said he knew he was going to be a Navy man in high school because both his mother and grandfather were in the Navy.

“It’s been an amazing career and I have enjoyed every minute of it,” he said.

Although Keith is not on the water as much as he wants to be, he tries to go fishing a couple times a month in the winter and more in the summer.