Operation Open Arms – A Pine Island Treasure

This letter appeared in the Nov 1 2011 edition of the Pine Island Eagle. We whole heartily agree with Ms. Knez – Southwest Florida and Pine Island people are the lifeblood of Operation Open Arms and generously give their time and talent to our active duty service members.

To the editor:

My husband and I moved to Pine Island in August, 2010. Since then, one of the most redeeming qualities we have noticed in “islanders” is their care and concern for others in the Pine Island community. There are many benevolent organizations on the island whose members dedicate their time, money, blood, sweat and tears to those in need, and most do so on a voluntary basis. One such organization came to my attention recently through an article in The Eagle a few weeks back. It was related to a young man in the military who was assigned overseas to one of our U.S. Embassies. Although from what I can tell (researching government websites and regulations), paid home-leave provisions exist for civilian and military personnel, eligibility is related to length of service and other factors. For whatever reason, the young corporal had to pay his home-leave airfare out-of-pocket. His overall airfare cost was substantial, and pretty close to the amount he nets in a month. I was very disturbed by the fact that this young man, who guards and protects the embassy and its officials, was burdened with such expense. The organization that was soliciting donations to help offset the corporal’s travel expenses was Operation Open Arms. At the end of The Eagle article, I was surprised to see that Operation Open Arms had an address right here in my own backyard – in Saint James City.

Being a skeptic by nature, I went to the Operation Open Arms website to learn more about this organization. I learned that Operation Open Arms started with one fishing captain providing a free fishing trip to a service man who only wanted to go fishing while on combat leave. The fishing captain, John “Giddyup” Bunch, provided that fishing trip; and since 2005, from what I can tell, has done some pretty amazing things for our armed forces. According to the website, the mission of Operation Open Arms is “To provide U.S. Service men and women visiting Southwest Florida every conceivable benefit during their two week combat leave or return from a foreign duty station.” The mission is dependent upon tax deductible contributions and donations for things like free limo service, lodging, restaurants, fishing charters, golf, tennis, bowling, kayaking, biking, emergency dental care, and a cutting edge approach for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I also learned that Operation Open Arms has paid in full for 82 U.S. troops’ weddings, complete with limos, lodging and all the trimmings. Cost-free vacations to our lovely Southwest Florida area have been provided to over 1900 troops around the nation.

Our military men and women put their lives on the line each and every day to protect our nation and preserve our freedom. Combat takes a hefty toll on our service men and women, and to have an organization that provides a cost-free way for them to depressurize and “unwind,” is a true blessing. Operation Open Arms should be commended for the wonderful things it has done, and continues to do for our men and women in uniform. This organization only further supports my original assessment of Pine Island – a place where people care and are concerned for others. To donate or learn more about this worthy organization visit the website at: operationopenarms.org

Judy Knez


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