Five veterans, their spouses and their children spent three days in Key West this month providing relaxation for all as guests of Wounded Warrior Angler's Inc.
David Souder, co-founder of Wounded Warrior Angler's Inc., said they brought four of the five wounded warriors and their families into Matlacha Friday morning, Sept. 13. The fifth angler and family met the group in Key West. "Usually they would stay at the Angler's Inn," Souder said. "Angler's Inn always provides our veterans with accommodations during their stay here but this time we were leaving early to catch the Key West Express at 8:30."
"Bill Stokler of the Angler's Inn is one of our great supporters," said Judy Souder, Souder's wife and co-founder. "We have several businesses here that have helped us along the way."
Souder, who served in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield, said Wounded Warrior Angler's reaches out to veterans of every war.
"But most have come from the more recent wars of Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. All of us on this trip were from those wars," he said.
Souder's interest in helping veterans began with his work with Marines Helping Marines, a non-profit organization providing support for injured Marine Corp personnel.
"We basically worked with every branch of the service," Souder said. "Then I hurt my knees in 2008 and went through a series of hardships and surgeries."
Souder had additional complications where he needed follow-up surgeries and all this pain brought back some very bad memories later identified as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). PTSD is a serious condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or terrifying event in which serious physical harm occurred.
"With all these mental issues along with rather serious financial issues, to be honest, I wasn't sure I wanted to be here any more," Souder said. "I was seeing a therapist at the time and she suggested I find something to do that I enjoyed. As a kid, other than playing sports, I enjoyed fishing. So I started fishing again almost every day and every weekend at Rehoboth Beach inlet in Delaware."
"Once David started fishing, what I saw in David was peace," Judy Souder said. "So I was happy he had found something that seemed to be working for him."
"The start of reaching out to veterans began when we moved to this area and we were invited to a Wounded Warriors Project event at Lighthouse Point in the Fort Lauderdale area," Souder said. "It was a great event but the only thing we didn't like was that as a wounded warrior I was allowed to participate, but Judy as a caregiver was not. When we were on our way back home, we talked about that and thought if we were going to start something like a Wounded Warriors Project, what would we do different. The one thing we decided on was that the whole family should be included, spouses and even the children not just the warrior."
Once David and Judy Souder made the decision, things moved along rather quickly. On June 1, 2012, the Souders established Wounded Warrior Angler's, Inc., and held their first event less than a month later on June 30. Since that time they have held seven large events they call "retreats," more than 60 "outings" involving just a few veterans at a time, and seven or eight tournaments.
This Key West group included five Florida veterans:
n Angel Vazquez, (Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom)
n Kevin Santos, (Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom)
n Mark Richards, (Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom)
n David Souders, (Desert Storm, Desert Shield)
n Wayne Nelson, (Desert Storm, Desert Shield)
By noon on Friday, the whole group was in Key West. They were housed in their condos at the Naval Air Station. After exploring the island, they all got together at Finnegan's Wake, an Irish pub in Key West, where everyone had a chance to relax and get to know one another.
Everyone was up early Saturday morning for breakfast and right after breakfast the veterans were presented with their own rod and reel.
"We buy some pretty good equipment," Souder said. "I want them to have equipment that last them many years. Hopefully they will continue with fishing."
The boats were ready and everyone boarded for their day of fishing.
"They all caught some great fish and everyone had a great time," Souder said.
Once the boats were loaded, Judy Souder and members of the families toured the island.
After a long day of fishing the group enjoyed dinner at one of Key West's best seafood restaurants the Conch Republic.
"In addition to the housing we take care of all the food for the families," Souder said. "There are no out of pocket expenses."
The group got together Sunday morning for breakfast.
"Then we toured the town, had lunch a Sloppy Joe's and visited some museums," Judy Souder said. "This was our last chance to spend some time together. We had a wonderful time."
Sunday at 5:30 p.m. all boarded the Key West Express back to Fort Myers Beach.
"Our goal is to create a camaraderie among the vets and the families and I think we accomplish that," Souder said. "All in all everyone had a great time and some of these new friendships will be friends for a long time to come. They all share the common bond of war."
The next event is scheduled for Oct. 2527.
For additional information, visit www.WoundedWarriorAnglers.org