Author Archives: Brenda - Admin

Operation Open Arms Debut on NBC Today Show

Operation Open Arms is the only Florida charity to be featured on the NBC Today Show three times; such national acclaim is indeed a success story for the organization! Here is the Today Show clip from 2005 when Operation Open Arms got off the ground.

Operation Open Arms Gets New Wheels

From the News-Press, June 29-2011

Operation Open Arms received a new vehicle Wednesday to help transport troops to and from the airport.

“We wanted to donate the car and we’re trying to figure it out,” said the car’s owner.

She wanted the car to be used and not sold.

The AC needed to be fixed and the windows and interiors needed work too. Operation Open Arms went on Fox 4 and the support from the community piled in.

Cliff Gilman, manager at Leading Edge Auto Care took care of the AC and helped coordinate the auto work. The vehicle stayed at his shop. Gilman’s dad was a veteran so that was a major factor in his contribution.

“If it wasn’t for the veterans we wouldn’t be here doing what we do today,” said Gilman. James Szczep, owner of The Mobile Headliner Mad llc. also had similar ambitions.

“I just wanted to help out the troops,” said Szczep. “I gave him a break on parts and did the labor for free.”

Many other vendors contributed. Stealth Automotive cut a break with headlights and Collex Collision Experts helped with the bumpers.
“(It was) an amazing effort for everyone to put this together,” said Bunch.
The finished car was displayed at Geo’s Italian Restaurant on 1140 Ceitus Terrace in Cape Coral.

Geo’s hosted a fundraiser that night from 5 to 10 p.m. and 10% of the proceeds benefited OOA. Geo’s has been giving troops free meals with the program since it opened.

“(He) extends a lot of graciousness for police, fire and our troops,” said Bunch about owner George Lukas.

The car will be a great asset to the charity. The group has been spending around $150 for limo service to chauffeur the troops. Now that the car is ready they will not have to rent a limo for when they pick up a few soldiers.


OOA Helps Louisiana Serviceman with Free Beach Wedding

From the News-Press, June 21 2011

Dressed in his military uniform, Sgt. Jerry Mitchell kissed his bride, holding her as the Gulf waves rolled in behind them.

The couple’s three boys — 8, 3 and 2 — dug in the sand beside them, while their daughter, 5-year-old Cheyenne, quietly watched.

Mitchell, 32, and Crystal Dukes, 25, were finally married.

Mitchell and Dukes drove almost 1,000 miles from Hessmer, La., to exchange wedding vows on Fort Myers Beach behind the Pink Shell Beach Resort & Spa.

The entire wedding — from cake to the couple’s hotel stay — was paid for by Operation Open Arms, a local nonprofit that extends benefits to military service members.

It was the 81st wedding the nonprofit has organized, each made possible with donations.

Dukes found the group on the Internet, and just hours after she emailed founder Capt. John Bunch, the wedding was in the works.

“He had my cake, he had flowers, he had our hotel,” Dukes said. “I couldn’t call him right away. I was crying.”

Mitchell and Dukes have been together almost five years. They planned to marry last year, but had to put it off when Mitchell was called to respond to the BP oil spill disaster off Louisiana’s coast.

Mitchell, who has served with the National Guard for six years, will leave for Afghanistan in November — his first deployment.

“I say to myself, it’s going to be OK. It’s going to be all right,” Dukes said. “It’s going to be hard on (the kids). It’s going to be very hard on me but I’m going to have them (here).”

Meanwhile, the St. James City-based organization tried to make life a bit easier on the family Tuesday.

“I was kind of overwhelmed with everything,” Mitchell said.

“I wasn’t really expecting this much for it.”

After the two exchanged their vows, the family each took a small vase of colored sand and added it to a larger vase — a symbol of their unity.

The family placed their hands on the vase as Chaplain Larry Ager said a prayer.

Bunch, who served in the Marine Corps from 1969 to 1975, says helping fellow service members is something he has to do — and he enjoys it.

OOA Founder Received Prestigious Seven Seals Award

From the Sanibel-Captiva Breeze Newspaper, April 12, 2011

He founded the nationally acclaimed military outreach program that has helped thousands of servicemen and women in the 6 years of its existence.

Operation Open Arms is a 501c3 public charity with no payroll, yet through more than 200 sponsors it extends benefits to U.S. Troops. Capt. John “Giddy Up” Bunch started the Pine Island charity to provide benevolent services to those who serve our country.

“I didn’t expect the response,” said Bunch about the success of OOA.

Operation Open Arms has the most diversified benefits package for troops and their family. They include fishing charters, lodging, restaurants, limo service, golf, bowling, tennis, dental and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder mental heath services at no charge. In addition, it has provided 79 free weddings to active military personnel. On Saturday, OOA will celebrate its 80th wedding at Pink Shell on Fort Myers Beach.

The biggest honor will be bestowed upon OOA April 18, when the Seven Seals award will be received by Bunch. An awards luncheon will be held at Gulf Harbour Country Club with Capt. Schott A. Buschman, 7th District Chief of Staff for the United States Coast Guard, will be the guest speaker.

“I wish there was an award for every sponsor of Operations Open Arms and regret there is not,” said Bunch of receiving the highest state award given by Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) from the Department of Defense. “Operation Open Arms is honored to receive the Seven Seals Award and realize this recognition from ESGR.”

The real heroes, according to Bunch, are those who support OOA through donations and sponsorship. The name of each person and company is a testament to their service and love of country.

“Those associated with Operation Open Arms perform tangible acts of kindness and demonstrate their patriotism through their actions not their words,” said Bunch.

He thinks President George H. W. Bush summed up OOA’s mission when he said, “There can be no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others.”

The Seven Seals is awarded in recognition of an individual’s outstanding achievement, initiative or support over time that promotes the mission of ESGR. It is symbolic of the seven U.S. military reserve branches supported by ESGR – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, along with the Air National Guard. Seven Seals is the only award that transcends both the employer awards and volunteer awards programs give by ESGR.

“Our loyal and faithful contributors who believe in our mission continue to sustain us through these challenging economic times,” said Bunch of the continuous support of Operation Open Arms. “Collectively, we share one common belief. Service to our country is ongoing.”

OOA has been featured twice on NBC’s Today Show and has received numerous esteemed awards. It also assists in military funerals and arrangements. To volunteer or be of service to the troops, contact Bunch at 822-8888. Visit its website at, which is managed and designed by U.S. Navy veteran Milley Burden.

ESGR is a Department of Defense agency with a mission to educate, develop and promote a culture in which all American employers support and value the military service of their employees, to ensure national security. It will, when necessary, provide mediation for employers of Guard or Reserve employees, to assist in the resolution of conflicts from an employee’s military commitment.

Previous Seven Seals recipients include Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Iowa Gov. Chet Culver and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

OOA Founder Receives Key to City of Fort Myers

On Monday, Nov 15th 2010, the City of Ft Myers presented Operation Open Arms with a very rare distinction, The Key to the City of Ft Myers.

Councilman Thomas C. Leonardo has scheduled an item on the City Council agenda to recognize the 191 Sponsors of Operation Open Arms and founder Captain John “GiddyUp” Bunch. Operation Open Arms has addressed the needs of combat veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq, US Troops from foreign duty stations, and Wounded Warriors who want to visit the City of Ft Myers and the Southwest Florida area.

Captain John GiddyUp Bunch Receives Key to the City of Fort Myers. Video starts at 1:08.

The recognition will be one of the first items on the agenda. Operation Open Arms has been designated a public charity by the IRS. Founded in 2005 and featured on the Today Show (NBC) in 2005 and 2009, OOA completely relieves the cost of the combat leave vacation. Included in its many benefits are free limo service, lodging, restaurants, golf, fishing charters, full service weddings, and the nationally acclaimed network of PTSD Mental Health Professional who provide US Troops also at N/C. As well, OOA offers free emergency dental to all qualifying US Troops visiting Ft Myers. OOA has never denied benefits to any qualifying US Serviceman or woman from any of our 50 States.

Office of the City Council, Ward 6
Colleen Hrzenak, Senior Staff Assistant
Thomas C. Leonardo, Mayor Pro-Tem;
Councilman, Ward 6
Post Office Drawer 2217
Fort Myers, Florida 33902
(239) 321-7006 – Fax (239) 344-5906

Soldiers on Leave Get Married on the Beach, Thanks to the OOA Network

From the News-Press, April 16, 2011

Operation Open Arms Wedding, Fort Myers Beach FLArmy captains don’t have much time to plan weddings.

Between caring for her 2-year-old and studying for exams to move up in rank, Capt. Ana Bosher, 36, didn’t have a lot of downtime to scour florists and flip through bridal magazines.

To ease the planning and financial burdens, the local nonprofit Operation Open Arms stepped in to give Bosher and her beau, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Shon Thompson, 40, the beach wedding they’d always envisioned.

Red, pink and yellow rose petals dotted the sugary sand behind Pink Shell Resort & Spa on Fort Myers Beach on Saturday. Thompson wiped away tears as he stood under the altar in his navy blue dress uniform. Bosher walked the aisle in a flowing gown while Rascal Flatts’ “I Won’t Let Go” blared from speakers.


Pink Shell sales manager Dony Lubig watched the nuptials, which included donated services by Army veteran and DJ Jim Dalia and Chaplain Larry Ager, also a vet.

“We wanted to say thank you to our armed forces and all the sacrifices they make,” said Lubig, whose resort gave the newlyweds a room for the night.

If it hadn’t been for Operation Open Arms, the Fort Rucker, Ala. couple said they would’ve uttered their vows at the courthouse.

“We purposely held out because that’s not how we wanted to start our lives with two families coming together,” said Thompson, whose three teenagers served as bridesmaid and groomsmen.

Operation Open Arms paid about $1,000 for the affair, and rallied most vendors to volunteer their time and services, including the photographer, hair stylist and limo driver. The nonprofit provided a barbecue dinner reception at the VFW and is sending the couple on a one-day honeymoon to Jensen’s Twin Palm Resort and Marina on Captiva.

It marked the group’s 80th wedding since its inception in 2005. Capt. John “GiddyUp” Bunch, founder, said Operation Open Arms provides military supporters an easy way to show appreciation.

“It’s a way to give back and say thanks to our country and not have it hurt you financially,” he said.

On Monday, Operation Open Arms will receive the Seven Seals Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Department of Defense’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve

‘GiddyUp’ Behind a Hero’s Pitch

From the News-Press, Sam Cook, March 9, 2011

No one has more giddyup than fishing boat Capt. John Bunch.

Bunch’s nickname is “GiddyUp” because his persistence runs 24/7.

If you haven’t received an e-mail from Bunch, you don’t have a computer.

If you haven’t received a call from Bunch, you don’t have a telephone.

Bunch isn’t shy about asking for help to complete his good deeds.

The Pine Island resident – founder of Operation Open Arms, a local nonprofit that assists veterans – is gung-ho about caring for men and women physically and mentally scarred by war.

I received an e-mail from Bunch last month. He was behind the Red Sox’ plan to honor wounded U.S. Army war heroes Spc. Michael Araujo and Pfc. Corey Kent. He asked me to write a 30-second introduction for the City of Palms Park public-address announcer.

Thirty seconds?

That’s one sentence.

Bunch pulled at my patriotism, so I agreed.

The plan was for the Sox to give Bunch autographed jerseys for the soldiers and he would throw out the ceremonial first pitch on their behalf.

Kent, 23, who is walking with prosthetic legs, is convalescing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Bunch says he will deliver his jersey.

Araujo, 21, is completing his tour of duty at Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Ga.

One was closer than the other, Bunch figured.

He asked if Araujo could attend. I told him Araujo comes home every two weeks, usually weekends.

“Can you get Michael to the game or should I try?” Bunch asked.

Knock yourself out.

“After you told me how much Michael liked baseball, I started thinking,” Bunch said. “What if we went onto the field together and as I almost let go of the first pitch, I’d stop and hand the ball to Michael so he could throw it?”

That may be too theatrical for a pregame show, but you better get your partner to the park first.

I knew Bunch wouldn’t rest until Araujo, who’d lost a leg in Afghanistan, walked to the pitcher’s mound last Wednesday.

Bunch called Araujo Feb. 25, at his Cape Coral home.

But Araujo had to return to Fort Stewart to have five teeth pulled on the day of the game.

“Sorry, I can’t do it,” he told Bunch.

No hill for a climber.

“Who is your first sergeant and what is his phone number?” Bunch asked.

Bunch says he introduced himself to 1st Sgt. Jakes and expressed the importance of extending Araujo’s leave to March 2.

“I gave every assurance Rep. (Connie) Mack (IV) and/or Sen. (Bill) Nelson would be calling if I failed to be convincing,” he said.

When has Bunch ever failed to be convincing?

“I think we can get this done,” Bunch said Jakes told him.

The vets spared us the handoff and Araujo, revved up by the appreciative crowd, gunned the baseball into the backstop.

“My shoulder popped,” said Araujo, a St. Louis Cardinals fan. “That’s why I released it so high. My joints are still pretty bad.”

Strike or ball, Red Sox fans gave him a rousing ovation. They cheered again when he left near the third-base dugout.

Araujo’s fastball had too much giddyup, but considering the U.S. Marine who made it happen, it was a perfect pitch.

Semper Fi, GiddyUp.

Eligibility for Operation Open Arms Benefits

Operation Open Arms

As a prospective participant, you must read all details about eligibility, how to participate and arrange services, and other participant requirements on this page.

Operation Open Arms is open to U.S. service men and women on leave specific to the following criteria:

  • Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force, National Guard, and Coast Guard: Active Duty or deployed reserve are eligible for Operation Open Arms conditional on receiving Hostile Duty Pay.

The service member must provide a valid Military I.D. and Official Orders directing the service member to return to their foreign assigned post. The leave form is an official Government document labeled DA-31. Upon presenting proof of service and temporary leave documents, Operation Open Arms extends free or discounted benefits through a network of supporting cast members.

Our mission is to provide every possible benefit through a variety of sponsors before our service men and women have to return to Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, or other foreign duty stations.

How to Participate

Compose an email and direct it to  Your email should originate from your military email address. The brief narrative should provide a brief introduction of yourself  and your combat leave vacation needs.

Are there limitations?

Benefits are generally limited to one of each type of contribution during your visit. For example, a single fishing trip with one of the captains/guides in the list. This allows the contributors to continue providing the service to many more visitors.

What about gratuities?

Tips or gratuities are encouraged where they are customarily offered. They are not usually included in the donation.

Press Releases & Media

The continued success of this program depends on the excellent coverage and cooperation we have received from our local media. In many cases there will be media coverage of a visit and we ask that the recipient be willing to cooperate for interviews or appearances.

No US Service man or woman is expected to answer any question which could place our national security at risk. Do not discuss the location of your unit, mission, or offer insight into your MOS. However, all OOA participants will fully cooperate with our media on all matters relating to Operation Open Arms. You will be respectful, cordial, and bring credit to the branch of service you represent. Benefits will terminate immediately upon any violation of this policy.

Scheduling & Cancellations

In many cases our contributors have to shuffle their schedules to accommodate trips and other benefits. Additionally, they may have already made arrangements with the media for interviews or stories about the visit. If you have to change your plans, please let them know as far ahead as possible.

In some cases, a benefit, such as a fishing trip or hotel/condo offer may not be available due to previous bookings. Our contributors do everything they can to accommodate the visitors but sometimes just can’t make it happen.

Thank You

Thank you for your service and we hope you and your family enjoy the services offered by our contributors.

The Operation Open Arms Medallion

UNDER CONSTRUCTION. Article here that is the story and history of the OOA medallion.

Media Relations

We welcome media participation in our events and interviews with our participants and contributors.

Please contact Captain John GiddyUp Bunch with media inquiries or requests.

Our participants are informed that no US Service man or woman is expected to answer any question which could place our national security at risk. They will not discuss the location of their unit, mission, or offer insight into their MOS. However, all OOA participants will fully cooperate with our media on all matters relating to Operation Open Arms.