Category Archives: General OOA Articles

Marine spends fun-filled day ‘back home’ in Southwest Florida

Letter from best friend prompts Operation Open Arms to provide serviceman with special treat

December 24, 2012
By MEGHAN McCOY (mmccoy@breezenewspapers.com) , Cape Coral Daily Breeze
Thanks to a St. James City woman, her best friend of 16 years was recently treated to a fun-filled day while home on leave.
Due to a letter Kory Herrin, a petty officer with the United States Coast Guard Reserve, sent to Operation Open Arms, Michael Wayne Moore received a special treat during his five-day leave here on the island. He arrived home Dec. 11.

“U.S. Marine Michael Moore was the 2,300th U.S. serviceman to visit Southwest Florida since 2005,” Operation Open Arms Founder Capt. John “GiddyUp” Bunch said this week.

ooa-moore-012413

Marine Corps Sgt. Michael Moore was treated to dinner, an Arial tour and a limo and driver while he was on leave earlier this month, thanks to Operation Open Arms.

Moore, who joined the United States Marine Corps in 2006, is a native Pine Islander. He is currently serving as a Marine Security Guard for the United States Embassy in Moscow, Russia. He has also served in Japan, Iraq, Belgrade, Serbia and Conakry, Guinea.

In a letter sent to Bunch, Herrin said, “This career is very demanding and does not allow him to return home or receive leave very often. Sgt. Moore was due to return home last year on leave, but two weeks before his flight home, his relief did not clear security, so, in turn, Sgt. Moore was not granted his time off.”

Although Moore’s family now lives in Orlando, Herrin said he does not think of home until he crosses the bridge and looks out and sees Matlacha Pass.

She said the only thing Moore wanted to do while he was in town was eat American food and go to the beach. While in town, he had dinner at Sandy Hook, an aerial tour of the island and limo services.

“Michael Moore, like the 703 U.S. Marines before him, had a very short list of wishes. Thanks to great OOA partners like the Sandy Hook, Affordable Limo Service of Cape Coral, Paragon Aviation and the Matlacha Hookers, young Moore returned to Russia a very happy U.S. Marine,” Bunch said.

Herrin said when she asked Moore what his favorite part was, he said, “The mahi mahi at Sandy Hook was to die for, the aerial tour was amazing and the limo and driver were so upscale that he felt like royalty.”

Herrin said she would like to say a big thank you to Nichole at Sandy Hook, Tim Kingfisher for the aerial tour and Mr. Orlando for his limo to and from Dixie Road House.

“Mike and I have been best friends for just over 16 years, he is one of my heroes and I thank you from the bottom of my heart with treating him like the American hero that he is,” Herrin wrote to Bunch.

Bunch said it has always been his belief that great charities look for reasons to approve benefits and not reasons to deny them.

“This is probably why Operation Open Arms was selected as the first Pine Island charity to be named Best Charitable Organization in Fort Myers for 2011-2012,” he said.

Bunch said OOA has extended every possible act of tangible kindness to all branches of the military to include limo service, lodging, great meals at fine restaurants, chartered fishing trips, free PTSD mental health counseling and, of course, the amazing achievement of 99 free full-service weddings.

Pine Island veteran receives the gift of eye surgery

9/12/12 By MEGHAN McCOY (mmccoy@breezenewspapers.com), Pine Island Eagle

A Pine Island and Cape Coral resident were treated to a special surgery free of charge last month as a thank you for what they have done for their country.

Every year, Collins Vision of Fort Myers does a program called Giving Eyes, which this year focused on the men and women who have either served in the military or are currently in the service.

Travis Downes of Pine Island and Brett Pezzella of Cape Coral were the two recipients to receive advanced surface ablation eye surgery, worth $3,900, for free.

“No way I could have afforded it on my own  just a blessing,” Downes said. “I was fortunate I got picked.”

In 2000, he joined the Army and served for six years until 2006. Downes said he wanted to join the Army because of his family history, along with wanting the experience.

The marketing director of Collins Vision contacted Operation Open Arms because she knew it was a local charity that was also reaching out to the same people. Between OOA Founder Captain John “GiddyUp” Bunch getting the word out to people he knew, as well as through other advertised ways, applications and letters from friends and family were sent to Collins Vision to be considered for the free surgery.

Each member of the office chose his or her top two candidates for the procedure, which eventually dwindled down to the top two.

Bunch said he sent in the justification for Downes.

“I did so because if it wasn’t for Travis asking me to take him fishing back in 2005, the concept of Operation Open Arms wouldn’t have been there,” he said.

Downes said he was at lunch with his mom at Waterfront when he met Bunch. The next thing he knew Bunch took him and his father out on the boat free of charge so they could enjoy a day of fishing. He explained the gesture as “kindness out of his own heart.”

“I can’t thank him enough,” Downes said. “I will forever be in debt to him for all he has done.”

He said he hopes to see OOA continue, which can only be done by individuals donating to the cause. Downes encourages individuals to visit the website operationopenarms.org for more information.

One of the reasons Collins Vision chose advanced surface ablation, a blade-free surgery, as the procedure of choice is because it is the only laser approved eye surgery by most of the military branches because nothing happens at different altitudes or pressures, making it safe for the men and women.

Bunch said this is the first time OOA has played a helping hand in fixing U.S. troops eyes.

“Things we have done outside of our mission statement to me defines what a great charity is,” he said.

OOA mission statement 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 Florida native and Pine Island resident since he was a young boy, wore glasses for 20 years before he had the operation on Aug. 17, which took only 5 minutes to complete. Downes said the first week was the hardest in terms of recovery because of light sensitivity and irritation of the eyes.

“I can see a big difference for sure,” he said about his vision.

Although he was nervous about the procedure, he said it was well worth it because of the clarity he can now see.

Downes said Dr. Collins is one of the best in the area, adding that he would recommend him to anybody.

“A real good guy,” he said.

Operation Open Arms Presents USMC Fallen Hero Medallion

On Saturday May 26, 2012, OOA Founder Captain John Bunch presented the United States Marine Corp Fallen Hero Medallion to Mr. and Mrs. Murray at the Pink Shell Resort on Fort Myers Beach. Captain Bunch wrote:

“It was my honor and privilege to present the USMC Fallen Hero Medallion to the parents of Cpl Brandon Jeremy Murray of Cape Coral at 10AM this morning. Corporal Murray was a highly decorated US Marine who had distinguished himself as a brave and trusted warrior. 5 US Marines who served with Brandon in Afg were there to pay tribute. A part of me was taken away with Brandon today. God bless him, his family, and the USMC. Semper Fi”

US Marine Cpl Jonathan Taylor becomes OOA’s 2000th participant

Operation Open Arms afforded Marine Jonathon Taylor full benefits last night. He was the 2000th serviceman to receive benefits by Operation Open Arms. 1st Class Limousine provided the transportation to Blue Coyote where they were treated to dinner. Hoffman Photography was there to capture this special moment.

Jonathon will continue to enjoy his weekend in the Fort Myers area where numerous local business’s have donated services to this fine young man.

Prestigious Junonia Award for 2012 Presented to OOA

Harborside Convention Center, May 9 2012

Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau and the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce honored people and businesses for promoting community growth, creating local job opportunities and encouraging more people to visit the county at its annual award ceremony.

Operation Open Arms was honored with the Junonia award, so named after the “rare seashell that’s coveted by collectors visiting area beaches.”

Read the full story here.

Fort Myers Weekly Bestows “Best Of’ Honor to OOA

From the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, May 2012 “Best Of 2011” List

OOA Founder Best Do-Gooder

Fishing guide and Capt. John “Giddy-up” Bunch’s seven-year effort to give troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan weddings, honeymoons, vacations, fishing trips and joy at no charge — a form of thanks — is unprecedented. Now also a licensed pastor, these days Capt. Bunch can perform weddings himself by land, air and sea (and why not? He’s a former Marine Corps officer, after all). More than 150 businesses in the region support his effort, but more support is always better support. You can find him at www.operationopenarms.org.

Not Your Usual “Best Of” List

Typical “Best of” sections in local newspapers require merchants to buy ads to have their names placed on the ballot. No ad, no chance to win.

That’s not their style here at Florida Weekly. They created a Best of Lee County that was fun, entertaining and untainted (for the most part) by commerce. They set out to create a list that captured the character or our unique area with the kind of flair you’ve come to expect from that publication. Read the full best of list winners here.

Operation Open Arms Southwest FL Helps 1,999th Member

Wink News, April 21, 2012

Operation Open Arms is helping the 1,999th service member in the seven years of the non-profit group. Alana Dent, a Navy Airman, took a limousine ride from SW Fl. Intl. airport to her mother’s house in Fort Myers. Dent is home on leave for 5 days.

“I am so happy to see family and friends and to ride in a limosine! I have never ridden in one before,” the 20-year old Dent told WINK News.

Her mother and brother greeted her at the airport, and all took the limo home.

“Pretty cool. I could get used to this,” said Dent’s mother, Christina Drake.

“I think it is wonderful that people remember our service-members and help them with special things when they come here on leave,” said Drake.

Operation Open Arms founder, former Marine Capt. John Bunch, was travelling out of state on Friday. But he told WINK News: “I thought we would have gotten to 1999 service-members before now. But the end of the military presence in Iraq and the draw-down in Afghanistan, is slowing things a bit. However, we will continue to exist, because there will be service people coming back home on leave for as long as we can see into the future. It has been a long and at times, hard 7 years. But we will keep going.”

Open Arms has provided 95 weddings for service people, as well as hundreds of free hotel accomodations, meals, and fishing excursions in the Gulf of Mexico.

Navy Airman Dent goes back to her home base in San Diego in 5 days, and then will deploy on a medical ship in the Pacific for the next 6 months.

Free Laser Vision to Winning Service Member from Collins Vision

Dr. Michael Collins and Collins Vision
Announce partnership with Operation Open Arms:

“OPERATION GIVING EYES”… VISION OF A HERO!

Dr. Michael Collins, Board Certified Ophthalmologist and Fellowship trained Eye Surgeon is partnering with Operation Open Arms to provide Collins LaserVision (Advanced Surface Ablation) to a deserving man or woman who is currently serving or has served in the US military. Operation Open Arms is a nationally acclaimed military outreach program that offers US Service men and women visiting Southwest Florida every conceivable benefit during their two week combat leave or return from a foreign duty station.

Through this partnership, Dr. Collins will perform Collins LaserVision (Advanced Surface Ablation) free of charge, which is the only form of Laser Vision Correction surgery approved by most military branches. This advanced form of Laser Vision Correction Surgery uses state-of-the-art technology to make the procedure safer, bladeless, and flap-free unlike traditional LASIK.

To nominate yourself or someone you know, simply write a brief letter explaining why you, or someone you know, should be considered for free care. Email to: info@operationopenarms.org or mail to: Operation Open Arms, 3624 Bayview Avenue, St. James City, FL 33956. Please title essay “Operation Giving Eyes Submission”. Deadline for your nominees is May 31. You will be notified if chosen.

For more information about Michael J. Collins, Jr., FACS, please visit their website at www.collinsvision.com or call Lauren Dunford at (239) 936-4706.

Pine Islanders Pitch in For Soldier’s Wedding

Operation Open Arms Organizes 94th Wedding

From the PineIsland-Eagle.com

Operation Open Arms is granting another couple’s wish in April by taking care of a soldier’s wedding, which is the organization’s 94th wedding since 2005.

“Operation Open Arms is a network of individuals and businesses who extend every possible act of tangible kindness to our troops who risk their lives for our freedoms,” Operation Open Arms Founder Capt. John “GiddyUp” Bunch said.

He said in a recent USA Today poll, real estate values, the economy and how much 401Ks might be worth seem to preoccupy the psyche of most Americans.

“The relative concern for the well-being of our troops even stands behind the great political divide which keeps our country from being greater than it already is,” Bunch said. “However, there are still many Pine Islanders who chose to make a real difference.”

Some of those businesses and individuals include the Tarpon Lodge, Bert’s Bar, Sandy Hook, Jay at Bubba’s Roadhouse, Gerald Butters, Lisa Benton, Elaine McLaughlin, Maxine and Steve Woodard and Capt Chris Stanford.

The wedding for Matthew Welch, from Ashville, N.Y., and Haley Kibble, from Findley Lake, N.Y., will be held April 4 on the island.

By planning a wedding at no cost to the couple, Bunch said it provides them with the opportunity for a down payment on a house or to put money away to start a family.

Each Operation Open Arms wedding is worth a minimum of $15,000,

Bunch said. Operation Open Arms must pay for many things such as cake, limo, tents and the venue.

“But any time everyone chips in, the results are always magical,” he said. “Our troops have never contributed a dime. The first OOA wedding was all about my refusal to accompany a Marine to the Lee Courthouse and be his witness. In two days a full service wedding was provided.”

Jenifer Welch’s nephew Matthew, who turned 18 in October, is currently in training due to his planned deployment to Afghanistan on June 6. Matthew is a 12B Combat Engineer in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Welch said she has lived on the island for 10 years and Matthew’s grandparents, Bud and Dawn Welch of Bokeelia, have lived on the island for 16 years.

She said she has become friends with her nephew’s fiance on Facebook and has come to know her pretty well through their online communication. Once the engagement was announced, Welch said her nephew said they wanted to have a courthouse wedding.

Since Welch is a notary she asked them to get married in Florida.

“It turned into something way more than I expected, which is wonderful,” she said of Operation Open Arms helping with the wedding. “I thought it was going to be something that we would take them over (to Cayo Costa) on our personal boat with her parents, his parents and grandparents and do the vows and then go to dinner.”

A number of people came forward through Operation Open Arms to help with the wedding, along with the Women of the Moose providing the decorations and flower arrangements.

“It is kind of neat how it is all coming together,” Welch said.

The wedding started off with six people to witness the ceremony, which has grown close to 30 people now.

Welch said she used to work for Make A Wish Foundation, so she wanted to focus on the couple’s wedding day instead of Matthew leaving in about a month to Afghanistan. She said it is all about thinking positive about the wedding and not the outcome of him leaving for a year.

“They are very excited,” Welch said about the wedding plans. “We only communicate through Facebook. I send them bits and pieces of what people are doing. They are shocked at how much everyone is doing.”

She said they have made a lot of friends through the planning of the wedding.

“Everybody is offering to do something,” Welch said.

The couple is flying into town on April 1 for the wedding.

Since Haley’s dream is to have a beach wedding, the couple will most likely get married at the tip of Bokeelia on the beach, if they cannot make it to Cayo Costa due to the tides.

Annie Wenz will provide the entertainment for the wedding, Bubba’s is catering the food and Tarpon Lodge is providing a two-night stay for their honeymoon. The Matlacha Hookers also donated a large tent for the festivities.

“A special thanks is hereby extended to the new Madam of the Matlacha Hookers, DJR, for providing a critical level of support for this wonderful wedding. Thank you all for making such an enormous difference in the life of a U.S. soldier from Bokeelia who is being deployed to Afghanistan,” Bunch said. “You are all heroes in my eyes.”

Operation Open Arms Needs Volunteers

February, 2012: Florida Weekly writer Roger Williams writes about Operation Open Arms, its founder Captain John “GiddyUp Bunch.” and what Operation Open Arms needs to continue providing benefits to active duty service members:

“OOA needs a professional grant writer. OOA needs an office. OOA needs an administrative assistant. OOA needs a director to soon take my place. Most of all, OOA needs contributions to pay for all the things associated with a legit charity, like the American Red Cross has. They have a well-paid staff. They have a beautiful office, vans and cars. They have an advertising budget.

“I go to the post office after a charter hoping to see a check in Box 101.”

I don’t think Capt. Bunch cares about some of that — the beautiful office and what-not.

But he could use some help, and so could the young men and women coming home from very difficult places.”