In June of this year, I had the privilege of joining six other board members for the organization, Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc.
I, Meghan McCoy, was first introduced to the organization on Father’s Day in 2012 while covering the Save Our Servicemembers (S.O.S.) event for the Pine Island Eagle. I remember sitting at a picnic table at the Olde Fish House Marina interviewing Dave after he finished speaking at the event. His passion for this organization got me, he truly wanted to help others.
From that moment on, Dave, Judy and I formed an incredible friendship. As I continued to write articles about the organization for the Pine Island Eagle, my love and interest for what they did grew. I was constantly being touched.
This organization has given me the opportunity to thank our service men and women, as well as their caregivers with the simple gesture of shaking their hand or speaking the words thank you.
The excerpt below was taken from another blog I have written, something that I think about often.
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.
Wounded Warrior Anglers is an incredible organization that “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.”
This organization, which was founded in 2012 by Dave, president, and his wife Judy, vice president, has grown leaps and bounds since its inception. That growth happened with the help of many dedicated individuals who all want to make a difference in our wounded warrior lives, as well as their caregivers.
Tate Hutchinson, Treasurer
Tate Hutchinson, Judy and Dave’s son, is a founding board member . He is an industrial mechanic who lives in Martinsburg, WV who loves to fish. He was in the Army for two years with the 82nd AirBorn.
“I bring my experience of the military service and my love of fishing in hope to accomplish healing the souls of our military men and women for all they have given to our country and its freedom,” Tate said. “We are trying to help heal and give back to our soldiers for all that they have sacrificed for our country. In my opinion, this is one of the most important organizations in our country helping our veterans.”
Marlene Randolph is another founding board member of Wounded Warrior Anglers. She became a member after Dave and Judy asked her help make their idea come to fruition of helping soldiers when they come home.
“Let them know we appreciate their sacrifice and help them find some peace in the normal,” Marlene said.
Marlene lives in Tennessee where she is the owner of ServiceMaster of Greeneville, TN and The Handy Man in Afton, TN.
Lisa Dence decided to become a member of the board after a benefit was held at the Olde Fish House Marina, where her and her husband are managers, in June 2012. She moved to Southwest Florida from upstate New York in August 2002.
“I met David and Judy and knew this was an orgnaization I would want our business to support,” Lisa said, adding that Dave asked her to become a board member in 2012. “I am honored to be a part of Wounded Warrior Anglers. David and Judy are amazing people that truly are about making a difference.”
Lisa provides the organization with property in Matlacha, FL – a marina, water access for captains for their boats, as well as open air seating where the wounded warriors and caregivers gather at the end of fishing and spa retreats. She said she also offers the understanding of how important it is to help these wounded warriors through this very stressful time.
“My goal is to make a difference and lasting positive memory even if it is only for a day to let them know that they are not forgotten and how grateful we are for their sacrifice and service,” Lisa said.
Kevin Santos, who became a part of the organization in March 2013, enlisted in the Army in 1985.
“I met Dave at a PTSD group at the VA Clinic in June of 2012, I had never heard of his organization and as he was telling me about it, his face was lit with joy,” Kevin said. “I decided to go fishing with him and we had a great time. I have since spent a lot of time volunteering to help him with whatever he needed. We became good friends.”
Kevin believed he could still help the organization more, so he asked Dave if there was anything else he could do, which granted him a member of the board of directors.
The school Kevin had signed up for had been canceled and he was sent home in the late 80s. He returned approximately seven months later to continue school as a concrete mobile mixer operator. Kevin graduated and was selected to attend Ranger school and was later recruited by the special operations command and sent to SFAS.
“In 1986, I graduated from SFAS and was assigned to the 10th Special Forces unit at Ft. Devens in Massachusetts. I spent six years with 10th group and was deployed to Libya, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama and Iraq,” Kevin shared. “I returned from Iraq in 1991 and was assigned to a special task force to train members of the other branches of the military in repelling and close quarters combat.”
Unfortunately Kevin fell from a 60 foot repelling tower and was paralyzed for four years, spent two additional years in a wheel chair before walking with crutches and a cane for two more years.
In 1999, he joined the National Guard and trained as a medic and was stationed in San Antonio and Wyoming for a total of two years. In 2002, he returned to active duty and did another tour in Iraq, then Korea before joining the 101st and did two more tours in Iraq. Kevin finally retired in October 2007 and moved to Cape Coral, FL.
Kevin brings a great deal of ideas to the organization, which he explains are sometimes so far out of the box they have their own zip code.
“I would like to see the organization become a national organization and have members in every state in the U.S. and be able to do more for their veterans and their caregivers,” Kevin said.
The organization stands out for Kevin and is like no other veteran organization because it has a lot of younger veterans involved. He said Wounded Warrior Anglers also includes the caregivers in many activities and retreats, which he also enjoys.
“I feel that just by being around other veterans and going out to go fishing or hunting or just doing something with them, I have improved my life,” Kevin said. “I am getting better at coping with stress and my PTSD just because I know that nothing will ever happen that will spark a relapse or a flashback while I am with them, they have my back and I have theirs.”
John Lynch, a lieutenant with the Cape Coral Fire Department, became a board member four months ago. The Matlacha resident fishes almost every single day that he is home off of his dock.
“I was having lunch at the Olde Fish House and overheard Judy and David Souders setting up their first fundraiser and introduced myself,” John said. “I thought Tammey and Nadine at Spa 33 might help out with the wives, girlfriends and caregivers. It’s the best way I thought we could help. Tammey and Nadine loved the idea and really ran with it.”
(Note: The Wounded Warrior Anglers offer a Warrior and Caregiver Retreat throughout the year. Warriors are treated to a day out on the water fishing, thanks to the generosity of captains and their boats. The caregivers are also treated at Spa 33 in Matlacha with a day of pampering – manicure, facials, massages, make-up and their hair styled)
John said he would like to help Wounded Warrior Anglers grow and touch as many returning wounded warriors as possible. He said it stands out as a local, home-grown, small organization that David and Judy started to provide a positive experience for our returning service men and women.
“What I bring to this organization is a tiny thank you for the sacrifice, service and dedication that these men and women and their families have provided for protecting our nation and its freedoms,” John said.
Tony Rogers purchased a home more than two years ago and made the area near Matlacha on the water his permanent home in June 2012.
He served as a federal immigration judge in Dallas, TX for more than 17 years until he retired in 2010. Tony is also a retired Army Colonel. He served as an infantry officer and combat aviator during the Vietnam War. After law school, he served as a judge advocate and military judge for the duration of his career. His career also includes serving as a professor at law schools, as well as on the faculty of the National Judicial College.
“I ran into Dave and Judy at Publix shortly after moving here and the ‘Army Ranger’ sticker on the back on my SUV got Dave’s attention and we began talking about Wounded Warrior Anglers,” Tony said. “I participated in the first event and was the guy who was out fished by a 13-year-old.”
(Note: Tony donated his time and boat as a volunteer captain to take the wounded warriors out on the water during a retreat.)
Shortly after participating in that event he was asked if he would like to become a board member.
“I enjoy the opportunity to interact with the warriors and to give them a positive experience. As a combat veteran from Vietnam, I served as an infantry officer and pilot. I know something of what these folks bring home with them and the nation was not as welcoming in my era, so I am happy to provide a better experience. The guys I have taken out have a wide range of challenges including extensive TBI, amputations and early onset dementia relating to IED’s.”
Tony said overall his participation with the organization has been a rewarding experience.
“I think I get more out of it than the folks I take out,” he said. “We seldom talk about war or combat, which might surprise the casual observer, but our focus is on fishing and relaxation.”