05 June, 2007

Doing Good...

Does the doer good, too.

[An additional report in "

From someone intimately involved in the event:

Operation Fresh Air took place on June 2nd, 2007 at Leesylvania State Park in Prince William Co., VA. It was hatched in early March as the absolutely brilliant idea of a Marine wife, Cyndi Juarez, in response to the breaking scandal at Walter Reed. She was casting about for a way to do something for our wounded heroes at Walter Reed and Bethesda.

Cyndi, who works for the Prince William Co. Park System, realized that she was looking out her office window at the solution. Fishing!! Beautiful scenic trails and views!! A perfect tonic for what ails the spirits of our wounded heroes. Fresh air and relaxation.

Op Fresh Air was supported by Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. Semper Fi most graciously sponsored the food and drink for the event. Dixie Bones was hired to cater the event with their delicious Pulled Pork and BBQ Chicken as well as equally yummy sides.

On the morning of June 2nd, over 20 volunteers descended on Area 4 of the park and began setting up the pavillion. Round tables topped with red, white or blue tablecloths and a star centerpiece with an American flag were set up. Two banners were put up (one at the front of the park and one in the Pavillion) that read Simply.."Welcome Heroes".

The park is located on the banks of the Potomac and several pop up tents were placed at the dock along with coolers of water and soda. 10 fishermen volunteers stood by ready to assist the guests with their every fishing need. Two were young Marines from The Basic School at Quantico.

Cyndi's nephew, Kyle, came up from Alabama to play his guitar and mandolin as long as we wanted. He has won several musical competitions and really only started playing 3 years ago. A very gifted young 15 year old.

The bus was late. When they finally arrived ( about an hour later than we expected), our volunteers clapped and cheered to welcome them. The ages of our guests went from a 2 month old infant son to an over 50 native of Kansas who was wounded providing security for convoys in Iraq.

All of our guests were starving as they hadn't had breakfast. They tucked into the BBQ with an appetite that only the great outdoors can inspire.

Immediately after lunch, the fishing started. I mean that entire pavilion emptied out. Even though it was very warm down at the dock, nobody came back up until it was time to go back to Walter Reed.

I had one young wife tell me that she didn't even know how stressed out she was until she got to the park and truly began to relax. Others wanted to know when we were doing it again. They wanted to come back!!!

One young hero, in a wheelchair, got the opportunity to teach his little boy how to fish. A normal Daddy thing to do on a Saturday but not if you're living at the Mologne House.

They all stayed an hour later than planned to make up for the hour they missed that morning. When they arrived at the park, they were a little unsure of what to expect. When they left, they were all smiling broadly and hugging and shaking hands.

The fishing volunteers, who were mostly military or retired military, stuck around after the bus left and also wanted to know when we were doing it again.

I think every single person who was at that event on Saturday received something. Some got a chance to breath fresh air, relax, fish. Some made a new friend, some found inspiration, and some found a renewed desire to make a difference.

In addition to Semper Fi sponsoring the food and drinks for the day, the following groups supported the effort: Soldiers' Angels graciously fundraised for sunscreen and rec equipment (like a badminton set, bubbles, and balls). Military.com provided hats, t-shirts and their publication on Active duty/VA benefits and rights. Leesylvania State Park provided the banners, the facility, little lunch coolers, water bottles, maps and their newsletter.


[I have some excellent pics, but am waiting to find out if they are okay to publicize.]