2018 AHERO EVENT GUIDE
AHERO EVENTS AHERO events are not simply about fundraising in order to support the activities we offer at-risk Veterans and service members. In fact, each AHERO event is meant to engage those members in the healing camaraderie that happens as they come together, experience the care of the community, and learn about the many resources available to them for further help. If you or your group would like to sponsor, help out or volunteer at one or more of these events, please visit AHEROusa.com/info or call 910.548.8864.
JANUARY J Duck Hunt Stuttgart, AR FEBRUARY J AHERO Farms Deer Hunt Shorter, AL MARCH J Operation Song Pensacola Beach, FL APRIL J Heroes Breakfast Ft. Walton | Destin, FL MAY J 2nd Annual Mobile Big Game Fishing Club Veterans Appreciation Weekend Mobile, AL J Fishing4AHERO Pensacola Beach, FL
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JUNE J Scotland Hunt JULY J Warrior Hook-Up Islamorada, FL AUGUST J Warrior Hook-Up Pensacola Beach , FL OCTOBER J AHERO Farms Hunt Shorter, AL J Golf Tournament Queenstown, MD NOVEMBER J Denmark Deer Hunt DECEMBER J AHERO Farms “Senior Mentor” Deer & Hog Hunt Shorter, AL
A L A B A M A coasting presents
EVENT GUIDE Managing Partner/CEO Danny Calametti President/Publisher David Calametti Senior Editor Connie Conway Writer/Photographer Wendall Slater Art Director Randy Jennings Published by Discover Gulf Coast Alabama, LLC Phone: 251-694-0457 firstname.lastname@example.org 5758 Huffman Drive North Mobile, AL 36693 ©2018 Discover Gulf Coast Alabama, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
Dave Riley, DAV Chairman of the Board.
FEATURES and PROFILES AHERO EVENTS............................................................................. 2
CATERING FOR CHARITY............................................................ 22
MEMORIAL DAY FISHING4AHERO WEEKEND.......................... 4
VETERANS SUPPORTING VETERANS...................................... 22
A roster of annual events. Ready to fish?
PRESERVING AND PROTECTING OUR “SALT LIFE”................. 8
Chef’s labor of love.
Navy vets Fran & Charlie Switzer’s family tradition.
PENSACOLA BEACH ELK’S CLUB.............................................. 23
Escambia County’s Marine Resource Manager - Robert Turpin.
Offers AHERO years of generous and steadfast support.
OPERATION SONG....................................................................... 10
BAMBOO WILLIE’S INSPIRATION............................................ 24
AHERO PARTNERS UP FOR BIG GAME FISHING.................... 12
A CIVILIAN’S VIEW OF AHERO.................................................. 25
AHERO MISSION INSPIRES UWF FRATERNITY...................... 14
PAPA ALOHA GRILL HONORED TO SUPPORT AHERO............ 26
WARRIOR HOOK-UP.................................................................... 16
FISHIN’ CHIX REFLECTION......................................................... 27
GULF BREEZE SERTOMA CLUB STEPS UP FOR AHERO......... 19
PENSACOLA BEACH SONGWRITERS’ FESTIVAL.................... 28
THE GRAND MARLIN: EPIC GENEROSITY................................ 20
LEAVING THE MOUNTAIN BEHIND.......................................... 30
LENSEA: AHERO’S FULL-CIRCLE IMPACT................................21
LOCAL LAW FIRM SUPPORTS AHERO...................................... 32
Songwriting veterans hit the beach once again at PBSF 2018. Second annual veterans’ appreciation fishing outing.
Kappa Sigma raises funds and awareness in the community. Building a community tradition.
Making life worthwhile through SERvice TO MAnkind.
AHERO inspires enthusiastic support from the entire team. Production company helps tell the AHERO story.
Local business humbled by veterans sacrifices. Discovering patriotism.
“Mahalo nui loa” from the heart.
Shared experiences create bond.
Honoring our songwriting warriors.
Cody James’ song captures the essence AHERO.
Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, MItchell, Rafferty, Proctor, PA.
MUSIC4AHERO............................................................................ 21 Dream project compilation raises awareness.
AHERO EVENT GUIDE
READY TO FISH? H H H H H H H H H H
MEMORIAL DAY FISHING4AHERO WEEKEND FISHING RODEO - MAY 27 & 28, 2018 SHORELINE PARK - GULF BREEZE, FL This Memorial Day, AHERO hosts the Fishing4AHERO Rodeo, an outrageously fun annual event that we guarantee you will NOT want to miss. The Grand Prize? How about passage for two aboard the magnificent Breathe Easy, a 68-ft Viking fishing yacht AND the opportunity to fish alongside some truly heroic Veterans at AHERO’s Annual August Warrior Hook-Up Event!
WHY FISH FOR AHERO? Taking part in AHERO’s Fishing4AHERO rodeo helps us work against the tragedy of suicide among Veterans and active military members. About 22 Veterans and activeduty military members take their own lives each day. AHERO has developed effective programs that help these at-risk individuals reconnect with life, with one another, and with the support of all who care. That’s AHERO’s mission, and why more than 95 percent of our proceeds fund this and all our events and activities for U.S. military Veterans and active-duty men and women. Fishing4AHERO is made possible by the Community of Boat Owners, Anglers, and AHERO Donors of the Gulf Coast.
“The City of Gulf Breeze is honored to serve as the host site for AHERO’s Fishing4AHERO Rodeo. In this city, almost 800 families know what it is to celebrate milestones or holidays without the father, mother, brother, sister or friend they miss. Approximately 22,000 such families live in Santa Rosa County. All await or have awaited their loved one who fights for freedom or to ensure our security halfway around the globe. Veterans often return home drastically changed. AHERO gives our communities the opportunity to repay some of the debts we owe these brave Warriors for their sacrifices on our behalf.” Matt Dannheisser Mayor, Gulf Breeze, Florida
So get ready to join us and sign up to fish!
Where? At beautiful Shoreline Park in Gulf Breeze When? Memorial Day Weekend, May 27 & 28 See you there! 4 AHERO EVENT GUIDE
HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH INAUGURAL SPEARO4AHERO As part of its Memorial Day Weekend Fishing4AHERO fishing rodeo and fundraising challenge, AHERO is delighted to announce its 2018 inaugural Spearo4AHERO call-to-arms defense action to combat the invasion of our area waters by the Lionfish! AHERO’s collaboration with the non-profit Coastal Watch Alliance environmental organization takes aim at the dangerously invasive Lionfish, a non-native, highly destructive and voracious species who loves chowing down on our Gulf of Mexico marine life. The one thing lionfish won’t bite? A fishing hook. So who better to take aim to rid us of this fishy varmint? A volunteer army of spearfishing warriors, of course! You get the picture.
PLEDGE PER NUMBER OF LIONFISH All Spero4AHERO participants can sign up for the lionfish spearfishing challenge during our Memorial Day Weekend Fishing4AHERO event. Enlist your pledging sponsors to donate X amount for each lionfish you catch. You can launch from anywhere along the Pensacola coast, but bring your catch to the weigh-in (count-in, for lionfish warriors) at Shoreline Park in Gulf Breeze. Prizes will go to the Spearo4AHERO participants raising the most dollars and/or the most lionfish.
PLEDGE PER POUND DONATIONS BY YOUR SPONSORS
= GRAND PRIZE AHERO EVENT GUIDE
For more information visit: fishing4ahero.com 6 AHERO EVENT GUIDE
WANT TO BECOME A SPONSOR?
AHERO EVENT GUIDE
ROBERT TURPIN WORKS TO PRESERVE & PROTECT OUR GULF WATERS–AND “SALT LIFE” Resources Damages Assessment (NRDA) program. In terms of this area, how was the money allotted?
By Wendell Slater
If Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” hadn’t already been made into a movie, Escambia County’s Marine Resource Manager Robert Turpin would have been perfect for the starring role. With his sun-bleached skin and seasoned environmentalist’s wisdom garnered of the deep blue, Turpin continues to assist in preserving the beach life we enjoy today. I asked him to discuss our postoil-spill Gulf waters, and how securing its ecosystem makes it possible to continue exploring all that the Gulf Coast has to offer when the spirit of adventure lures you away to the sea. WS: You worked as the emergency response coordinator to help protect the Gulf after the BP oil spill. What have you learned? RT: That we were lucky. The spill gave us quite a scare. Those of us who work in the field know that we’ve given ourselves two strikes and now the pitcher is throwing a fastball. If the amount of oil received by southern Louisiana had entered the Perdido and Pensacola bay systems, we would be in a lot worse shape. My biggest worry is, we don’t know what we don’t know. We didn’t have good baseline ecological data prior to the spill, therefore it is difficult to attribute any problems to the spill itself. If you don’t have good records on the contents of your home prior to a catastrophic event, it’s difficult to get your insurance company to compensate for your losses. That oil spill was a real wake-up call. WS: After the spill, all the states affected received funding from the federal Natural
RT: One of the spill’s impacts we were able to demonstrate was loss of the use of many local waterways during the summer of 2010. Saltwater fishing in the Gulf of Mexico was closed and floating oil caused the substantial loss of boating, diving and related activities. We could obtain more than $4 million to construct two new boat ramps and replace the docks at two existing ramps. We also received over $3.7 million to construct new artificial reefs. These are just two examples of our efforts to mitigate the negative effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill. WS: One of the latest projects that you completed was construction of the artificial reef off the coast. Can you explain how such reefs work? RT: Escambia County has been actively building artificial reefs for more than three decades to provide complex habitat for marine life typically found at natural reefs. Although the water in the northern Gulf gets too cold in the winter for reef-building corals, we have rock ledges in areas not covered by the predominantly sand seafloor. These natural reefs aggregate hundreds of species of fish and invertebrates. We deploy artificial reef materials such as bridge rubble and other concrete objects, as well as steel barges, tugboats and other ships, to make living marine resources available to anglers and divers. The reefs are deployed closer to shore to increase their utilization. Fish and other marine life find the new reefs very quickly. Some are tiny snapping shrimp, which draw fish in the vicinity. Barnacles and other encrusting organisms quickly cover any
L to R: Cody James, Robert Turpin and Dave Glassman.
available hard substrate. I suspect the communities on any reef emit smells that bring fish seeking habitat. It is amazing how quickly an artificial reef is colonized! WS: In your role now as Escambia County’s marine resource manager, which projects involving the area’s marine environment are you most passionate about? RT: Diagnosing the Pensacola ecosystem. We, the scientific community, came together with county leaders and the Nature Conservancy to create the watershed analysis. Our bays are impacted by issues affecting other estuaries throughout our state, nation, and world. Estuaries are places where freshwater meets seawater. For millennia, streams and rivers drained precipitation through pristine watersheds. Within the last few hundred years, we’ve changed the quantity and quality of the water flowing into our bays. Impervious surfaces cause flash-floods during rain events, which carry pollutants such as pesticides, petroleum products, sediment and trash, and nutrients such as fertilizers and animal waste through storm-water systems. Loss of natural filtration systems–wetlands, seagrasses, oyster reefs, for example– further reduces the ability of waterways to cope with pollutants. Excess nutrients
WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE IMPACT OF, AND RESPONSE TO, THE DEEPWATER HORIZON OIL SPILL? Access the national resource damage assessment online information on the spill at: www.dep.state.fl.us/deepwaterhorizon/files2/projects/projects/escambia_fs.pdf 8 AHERO EVENT GUIDE
are particularly harmful because their cascading effects result in loss of oxygen in the water, creating dead zones. The 2017 Mississippi River dead zone in the Gulf covered an area the size of New Jersey. WS: Pensacola will always be a great tourism spot. How can tourists get involved in some form of ecotourism* for the protection of the local environment? RT: To me, ecotourism means visiting where the natural environment is not what you ordinarily see. There are two types of tourist activities, consumptive and non-consumptive. Scuba diving, recreational fishing, boating, and wildlife viewing are all forms of non-consumptive ecotourism, and bring millions of dollars into our economy each year. Fishing and taking your catch back to eat–that’s consumptive. We have established some areas for people to come in and view wildlife, other areas for hunting wildlife. It’s very much about resource allocation. Proper resource allocation can lead to proper ecotourism. *Ecotourism: tourism directed toward exotic, often threatened, natural environments, especially to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife.
“I had so much fun and got to see our Veterans have a lot of fun and laughs aboard the Breathe Easy last August. I’m so glad my dad and I got to participate in the tournament to help our heroes enjoy fishing. I learned so much about AHERO and can’t wait for this year’s tournament!” Sydney Flemming At nine years old, Sydney was Grand Prize winner of the Pledge-per-Pound program in the August 2017 inaugural Fishing4AHERO fishing rodeo.
Authority (SRIA) is The Santa Rosa Island in AHERO’s efforts. honored to participate AHERO fishing event No matter where an ach becomes “HQ” launches, Pensacola Be rriors back to port. as the boats carry our Wa e many Veterans find We are blessed to hav tiny island. And I, comfort with us on this to be asked to be part personally, am humbled h gathering. of the brotherhood in eac for the two-fold The SRIA thanks AHERO giv it es any Veteran gifts it offers: The caring helps, and the gift it or service member it the helping. delivers to those who do
“… the experiences our Veterans have in Escambia can remind them that the life they secured for us is full of opportunity for them, too.” Doug Underwood Escambia County Commissioner
Paolo Ghio Executive Director, SRIA
THE ALL-VOLUNTEER LEADERSHIP AND STAFF OF AHERO ARE DEEPLY GRATEFUL TO THE GULF POWER COMPANY FOR ITS CRITICAL PART IN HELPING TO ESTABLISH AHERO AS AN EFFECTIVE FORCE IN THE BATTLE AGAINST THE RISING RATE OF SUICIDE AMONG OUR WOUNDED AND INJURED VETERANS AND ACTIVE-DUTY SERVICE MEMBERS. TO THE MANAGEMENT AND PERSONNEL OF GULF POWER:
AHERO EVENT GUIDE
OPERATION SONG. SONGWRITING VETERANS TO HIT PENSACOLA BEACH AGAIN! By Reneda Cross
As founders of the Pensacola Beach Songwriters Festival, my husband, Jim Pasquale, and I met with PBSF supporter, Steve Gagne, in October 2017. Gagne told us the story of Cody James, a medically retired Marine helicopter pilot and songwriter who had recent relocated to our area. Composing and performing his work had become a positive influence on James after the traumatic experience of a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, and his long battle to recover. We left with a disc of Cody James’ music. Gagne had mentioned a volunteer working with AHERO, a retired USMC officer who was encouraging James to bring his music to the public. The
next day, I called that gentleman about James being involved in the festival and learned more about him and AHERO. Immediately, I knew that AHERO, James and the PBSF would be joining hands to bring Veterans to participate in our Festival. I discovered more about AHERO’s amazing program. It filled my heart to see how we were striving toward the same goal of bringing enjoyment to others: PBSF was doing it by celebrating music creators; AHERO by providing outdoor activity, fellowship, and resources to Veterans who have suffered greatly on behalf of all Americans.
The special “Veterans Songwriters Night” event during PBSF 2017 brought much appreciation of the singer/songwriters’ ability to express emotion through song. This year, our 10th Annual PBSF is scheduled for Oct. 3–7, and will again offer great performances by well-known songwriters–including our beloved Veterans. This year, Pensacola Beach will see yet another weekend event featuring songwriting Veterans. “Operation Song–A Veteran Celebration,” held during Easter Weekend (March 30–31), will unite us again with AHERO, and for the first time with Operation Song™, a non-profit organization that pairs Veterans and their families with professional songwriters. Here’s some of what our “Operation Song–A Veteran Celebration” weekend will offer:
J Songwriting workshop retreats
J 5k runs honoring our Veterans J Performances by participating
Veterans and Songwriters
J Guest Speaker J “Concert of Light”
Presentation of Colors
J A magical finish featuring
The Last Honky-Tonk Music Series
The songs our Veterans and service members write show the scope of their struggle and sacrifice. Offered without self-pity, they remind us that these men and women are truly heroic Americans.
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TERRI MASON, VOLUNTEER FUNDRAISING PRO, JOINS AHERO By Connie Conway
Born and raised in Michigan, it wasn’t until Terri Mason, AHERO’s new volunteer fundraising angel, married a Marine after college that she would learn to be prepared to move at any time. For 23 years, life was about relocating to new places. But wherever the place might be, Mason loved getting to know its people. While living in Montgomery, Ala., she took on many good causes, including working a year for the Red Cross. “I have no problem knocking on doors,” Mason says. “I feel a natural affinity for people and enjoy starting conversations. So often, it leads to discovering that we have interests in common.” So when she moved to Navarre, Fla., in 2016, Mason looked for a cause that could use her people-and-fundraising skills. As
soon as she heard about AHERO, she checked its website. “I was surprised that AHERO was started in Shorter, Alabama, so close to Montgomery,” she recalled. “I was sure I knew every non-profit in the area!” She got in touch with AHERO, volunteering her fundraising services. Her résumé was solid, her manner friendly, and she viewed AHERO’s Veteran-suicide-prevention mission as a true imperative. The fit was perfect. She suggested starting with an AHERO Heroes Breakfast at Fort Walton Beach’s Emerald Coast Convention Center––and knew just how to make it happen. Mason’s excellent organizational skills produced a well-attended inaugural breakfast event on April 19th of this year. Emceed by Greater Fort Walton Beach
Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ted Corcoran, with Mason herself offering a warm welcome to all and SSgt Matt Rumple, USAF Ret., delivering the Invocation, the event featured, as keynote speaker, U.S. Air Force SMSgt Corey S. Fossbender, 4th Special Operations Squadron Superintendent at Hurlburt Air Force Base. He spoke on the success of Special Ops units as well as the stress and demands they face, as highlighted in a video illustrating his presentation. The Breakfast’s appreciative audience of area residents and representatives of businesses and organizations also heard from AHERO Board of Directors Vice President Dave Glassman, retired USMC lieutenant colonel and co-founder of AHERO.
AHERO WOULD LIKE TO THANK THOSE WHO SPOKE AND ALL WHO ATTENDED THE EVENT FOR THEIR GENEROSITY AND CONCERN FOR THE AT-RISK WARRIORS WE SERVE, AS WELL AS THE EMERALD COAST CONVENTION CENTER’S MANAGEMENT FOR PROVIDING THEIR BEAUTIFUL VENUE. AND TO OUR VOLUNTEER EVENT MANAGER FOR HER AMAZING EFFORTS IN MAKING AHERO’S FIRST HEROES BREAKFAST COME TOGETHER SO BEAUTIFULLY: THANK YOU, TERRI! AHERO EVENT GUIDE
AHERO TO PARTNER UP FOR BIG GAME FISHING By David Calametti
The Mobile Big Game Fishing Club (MBGFC) and The Ironman Outdoor Ministries have invited AHERO to join in on their 2nd Annual Veterans Appreciation Fishing Outing, to be held May 4-5, 2018. Prior to sailing out of Orange Beach, Ala., fishing boats offered by Northern Gulf area owners will load up with US military Veterans and their spouses for a day of deep-sea-fishing excitement and camaraderie. One of the boats that will carry these American heroes will be the beautiful and beloved yacht, the Breathe Easy, famous for its vast capacity, great crew and generous owner. Up to 65 chargedup, out-for-big-fish passengers will be aboard the Breathe Easy alone. The MBGFC is a premier sport-fishing club and 501 (7) non-profit club on the northern Gulf Coast. By partnering with Ironman Outdoor Ministries and AHERO, the club is bringing together two of the country’s most dedicated outdoor charitable organizations focused on US military Veterans and active-duty personnel.
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Fishing can help relieve the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder–so says the science. Adjusting again to life back home can be a challenge for those who have rigorously trained for and experienced battle. A memorable day of fishing and fellowship on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico and surrounding inshore waters of Orange Beach, Ala., can help. Military spouses will also be recognized for their important role in helping our combat Veterans adjust to daily life once back at home. They, too, are American heroes, often carrying a heavy workload while their loved one is away serving on foreign soil. Several boats are on board for the coming event, with new ones being added regularly. Local charter captain Mike Davis said, “I’ve always thought that Veterans deserved to be recognized for the numerous sacrifices they make in their duty and dedication to the country and to the American citizens. A fishing trip seems like a really simple way to say thanks compared to the job they have done.”
Board of advisors member, Brian D. Leiser, noted that organizing last year’s event brought the Orange Beach business owners and individuals together within a short three weeks. “It’s a clear testament to what this community is about,” he said. “We’re proud of our Veterans and have a sound, clear vision that without them, none of this would be possible. The least we could do to show our appreciation for their sacrifice and willingness to defend, is to share this wonderful resource in our backyard.”
THE MOBILE BIG GAME FISHING CLUB WAS FOUNDED BY DR. ROBERT H. MUDD, C. M. A., (MAX) ROGERS, AND JERE AUSTILL JR., IN 1966. IN ADDITION TO THE ANNUAL VETERANS EVENT, THE CLUB HOSTS SEVEN BILLFISH AND BIG GAME TOURNAMENTS OVER FIVE WEEKENDS EACH SUMMER. ITS MISSION FOCUSES ON SEVERAL SPECIFIC GOALS, INCLUDING:
J TO FOSTER INTEREST IN BIG GAME FISHING, OCEANOGRAPHY, MARINE BIOLOGY, AND RELATED FIELDS J TO FOSTER RESEARCH INTO THESE AREAS AND SPONSOR RELATED LECTURES, FILMS AND
J TO FOSTER INTEREST IN AND KNOWLEDGE OF CONSERVATION OF OUR NATURAL RESOURCES J TO SPONSOR AND PARTICIPATE IN TOURNAMENTS DESIGNED TO PROMOTE INTEREST IN
BIG GAME FISHING AND THE CONSERVATION OF MARINE RESOURCES
J TO ENGAGE IN ACTIVITIES THAT, ON SPORTSMANLIKE BASIS, PROMOTE INTEREST IN BIG GAME FISHING J TO AFFILIATE ITSELF WITH OTHER ORGANIZATIONS OF SIMILAR PURPOSE MBGFC IS AN “EXEMPT ORGANIZATION” AS DEFINED UNDER THE INCOME, GIFT AND ESTATE TAX LAWS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
FOR MORE ABOUT THE MBGFC/AHERO/IRONMAN OUTDOORS EVENT, CONTACT BLAKE MECHALESKI AT (251) 978-3404, OR VISIT MBGFC.ORG, AHEROUSA.COM OR IRONMANOUTDOORS.ORG. AHERO EVENT GUIDE
UWF’S KAPPA SIGMA FRATERNITY: INSPIRED TO SUPPORT AHERO By Aaron Goldstein
After their first years of philanthropic efforts centered around support for military Veterans in the Pensacola area, the gentlemen of Kappa Sigma Fraternity’s chapter at the University of West Florida (UWF) became connected with AHERO through a mutual community partner: Island Times newspaper owner, Shelly Johnson. As AHERO’s purpose and mission aligned with those of Kappa Sigma Fraternity, a partnership was formed. This partnership led to the conception and co-promotion of the first Kappa Sigma Military Heroes Benefit Concert to raise funds for AHERO. In continuing this co-promotion, the brothers of UWF’s chapter of Kappa Sigma aim to increase their positive involvement in the community as they spread the message of AHERO. By fostering relationships and providing volunteer work in the community, the Kappa Sigma brothers hope to create a cooperative and establish a home within the Emerald Coast community for Veterans hailing from areas nationwide. On March 2, 2018, Kappa Sigma held its first annual Military Heroes benefit concert at The Handlebar, a popular music and watering hole in downtown Pensacola. Local musicians and community leaders from the area rallied there to show their support for the military community and Veterans nationwide. A truly memorable night of music and fun, it raised more than $1,000 for AHERO. In addition, the evening illustrated the healing power and rallying force that music can be for the Veteran community.
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BUT WHY UWF’S KAPPA SIGMA FRATERNITY? UWF’s Kappa Sigma chapter members strive to create an environment conducive to the growth of young professionals and leaders. Over the short five years since the fraternity chapter was founded at UWF, Kappa Sigma has drawn on its relationship with the community and its manpower of more than 50 members to make a meaningful and lasting impact on the surrounding Pensacola area. Service to others is an honorable and fulfilling obligation that the men of Kappa Sigma have set as their foremost standard of excellence. Since its founding, Kappa Sigma at UWF has had a history of strong leadership. In 2017, chapter president Noah Williams, 21, of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., made his mark by facilitating lasting relationships in the Pensacola community through his leadership and networking skills. UWF’s Kappa Sigma chapter accumulated more community service hours during his service and raised more money for its national philanthropy, the Military Heroes campaign, than ever before. He was followed by Brian Davenport, 24, who currently serves as Vice President of Kappa Sigma for 2018. Davenport is known in his organization for his strong moral compass and exceptional work ethic. A role model for his fraternity brothers, he is an extremely talented musician. His acoustic set at the Military Heroes benefit concert was a moving exhibition of soul and musical prowess.
Dean Fagot, 21, of Boca Raton, Fla., came into the UWF chapter of Kappa Sigma in the spring of 2017. Since his initiation, he has grown from a new member into a leader in the chapter and was elected the philanthropy committee chairman for 2018. Fagot’s positive outlook, professional demeanor, and keen ambition resonated within the chapter and has helped to further cement a culture of excellence. Fagot is also a classically trained musician whose strong, smooth vocals were enjoyed by all in attendance at the benefit concert.
Aaron Goldstein performs during the AHERO Concert.
Aaron Goldstein, 22, of Niceville, Fla., is the chapter’s president for the 2018 academic year. Goldstein continues the legacy of fostering new community relationships, expanding the chapter’s membership through valuesbased recruiting, and facilitating an environment conducive to the growth and education of its members. “Kappa Sigma’s first Military Heroes benefit concert was an amazing experience for the brothers of Kappa Sigma and for all who attended,” notes Goldstein. “I am excited to see the positive impact
that this event and future events like it have on Pensacola’s Veteran community in years to come.” Goldstein is also an avid musician and opened the concert that night with his chill, bluesy musical stylings.
cultural fraternity at UWF. Slater is also a freelance photographer, writer and social-media strategist. His energetic and passionate performance as the concert’s emcee undoubtedly contributed to the success of the event.
Key to the concert was its emcee, Wendell Slater, 24, of Gulf Breeze, Fla. A former U.S. Army sergeant, Slater enlisted as a combat engineer at the age of 17. He is currently a senior at UWF, majoring in broadcast journalism. He is the standards officer and public relations officer for Omega Delta Phi, a multi-
AHERO EVENT GUIDE
WARRIOR HOOK-UP H H H H H H H H H BUILDING A COMMUNITY TRADITION By Kevin Redding
In 2012, fans of the Pensacola area’s many military men and women had been dreaming of organizing celebrations worthy of the service and sacrifice of our nation’s warriors. No mere weekend gathering or barbeque would satisfy the mission. HEADS CAME TOGETHER TO PLAN Enter then-Marine-Captain (now Major) Lee Stuckey and his dream, which was being advanced by his team of volunteers. Maj. Stuckey’s near suicide had inspired him to do something about the alarming rise in suicides by injured and wounded active-service American military members and Veterans. Accordingly, he had formed the American Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors (AHERO) organization as a 501c (3) charity. Thus began AHERO’s Warrior HookUp weekend. Established to simply say, “Thank you,” it was made special by a boat volunteered to take participating Veterans fishing for a few hours.
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HERE’S WHERE THE HEROIC GESTURES COME IN A few years passed. The fishing, funding, and fellowship elements of the Hook-Up grew, spurred on by generous contributors. A still-modest, but exclusive occasion, the event then became inclusive, as the men of Pensacola Beach Elks Lodge #497 stepped up. AHERO’s Warrior Hook-Up weekend was now “on the map,” having become a marker on the Pensacola annual calendar. The Elks (Lodge #497 members number about 1400, many of them retired military men) soon launched a Meet & Greet in honor of AHERO’s Warrior HookUp Vets. Dinner at the Lodge featured fresh fish, compliments of the Warrior’s own catch that day, and prepared by the exquisitely talented Chef Mike Desorbo and his Culinary Productions LLC staff (read more about Chef Desorbo and CPI on page 22).
THE FORCES AT PLAY HAD BECOME MORE THAN SPECIAL The “fishing trip” grew into a brotherhood that brought community. Pensacola Beach now hosts AHERO’s Warrior Hook-up guest Veterans for four days each August. Fishing action out in the Gulf initiates fun, camaraderie and reflection that continue through the weekend. AHERO’s volunteers had not imagined such a great scope of success when they originally joined with the community to build on Major Stuckey’s dream. During Warrior Hook-Up weekend, each volunteer (including AHERO’s leadership and staff, who are all volunteers) brings his or her gift or skill, along with enthusiasm, to help advance the dream. Small groups gather at the Elks Lodge inshore. Offshore, boat owners form the now-famous AHERO Fishing Armada. Brunch at Flounder’s Chowder House and live music at the Gulf Breeze Methodist Church celebrate who’s here … and give thought to who’s not.
Santa Rosa Yacht Club, host of 2017 Warrior Hook-Up.
For this is a community full of generous folks who offer their time and resources to continue what has become a tradition. They are the ones who provide the heroic gestures sorely needed by those who have met the enemy that often comes after battle: depression, addiction, loneliness, self-isolation.
Escambia Fire Department Fireboat.
“Truly an honor and privilege to participate in AHERO Warrior Hook Up at Pensacola Beach. Such an amazing event that brought these Veterans together to participate in a fun-filled day of fishing and friendship on the Gulf Of Mexico. Our sponsored angler, James Hamilton, caught numerous species of fish and ended up with the biggest one of the day––a 36-pound cobia. Made some great memories!!” Wayne O’Hara, Sponsor AHERO EVENT GUIDE
WARRIOR HOOK-UP AS ANTIDOTE Suicide kills more of our military members and Veterans every year than does battle. The Pensacola area’s supportive communities recognize that fact now more than ever, in good part because of AHERO. To counter those statistics, they help AHERO plant the seeds of resistance through fellowship whenever they can. That’s how AHERO’s August Warrior Hook-Up became a fourday celebration of life. And why many come to be part of its fishing armada, led by the Warrior-packed, privately owned, magnificent 68ft yacht, Breathe Easy, with boat, crew and fishing gear provided free of charge.
Some say these measures can never meet the enemy’s match. But the belief that you can or cannot win is always correct. We’re here to help our heroes know they can win. Those sandwiches and drinks waiting at the Grand Marlin or Santa Rosa Yacht Club? They’re some of the means AHERO’s citizen-volunteers and supporters use to prevent unthinkable ends. Because to each wounded and injured veteran and active-duty hero participating in AHERO’s Warrior Hook-Up, every restaurant meal, hotel-room bed, and landed red snapper is a cog in the wheel of a mighty suicide-prevention machine. We think it’s a machine well worth feeding. Do you?
For more information visit:
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THE GULF BREEZE SERTOMA CLUB STEPS UP By Joshua Roth - Gulf Breeze Sertoma Club
By partnering with AHERO, the Gulf Breeze Sertoma Club seeks to help heal the wounded among our currently serving military members and Veterans. We want to reassure them of their great value as members of our American community. Once our club learned of AHERO’s mission to prevent suicides among this increasingly at-risk group, we became actively engaged. Sertoma’s initial involvement with AHERO was with the 2017 Fishing4AHERO Rodeo. Club member Andy McKeown’s request for volunteers was met with immediate enthusiasm and an all-hands-on-deck charge. Our club is incredibly proud to have been a part of such a successful fishing rodeo, as our members all recognize the opportunities AHERO provides wounded service members and Veterans to find joy and purpose in life once again.
loss. To date, the organization has helped more than 50 million of such individuals nationwide. Here in Gulf Breeze, our own annual Sertoma Family Fishing Rodeo fundraiser supports local projects and charities. The event has been a success for 27 years, consistently strengthening our ability to serve the many in our community who are in need. Gulf Breeze Sertoma strongly supports the men and women in the armed forces. Our club’s membership includes many Veterans from various branches of our military, and our non-service members have great respect for them. We are
“Making Life Worthwhile through SERvice TO MAnkind” is the National Sertoma organization’s tagline. Its primary mission is to improve, though education and support, the quality of life for those at risk or affected by hearing
proud to offer our ongoing support for the 2018 Fishing4AHERO Rodeo and other AHERO events whenever we can help. Our volunteers recognize that their efforts are appreciated though minimal when compared to the service given and sacrifices made by the men and women of our armed forces.
Gulf Breeze Sertoma Club participants.
WITH THE APPROACH OF THE 2ND ANNUAL MEMORIAL DAY FISHING4AHERO WEEKEND, THE ALL-VOLUNTEER LEADERSHIP AND STAFF OF AHERO WISHES TO RECOGNIZE WITH HEARTFELT GRATITUDE THE GULF BREEZE CHAPTER OF THE NATIONAL SERTOMA CLUB FOR ITS ENORMOUS SUPPORT OF THE WEEKEND’S 2017 INAUGURAL EVENT. INDIVIDUALS AND GROUPS SUCH AS THE GULF BREEZE SERTOMA CLUB HAVE MADE AHERO POSSIBLE AS A WELCOMING AND HIGHLY EFFECTIVE HAVEN OF FELLOWSHIP FOR OUR WOUNDED AND INJURED SERVICE MEMBERS AND VETERANS.
AHERO EVENT GUIDE
THE GRAND MARLIN: EPIC GENEROSITY, INSPIRED ENTHUSIASM By Wendell Slater and Julie Linander
I asked Grand Marlin Sales and Marketing Manager Julie Linander to describe the long-standing supportive relationship her company has with AHERO. Here’s what she told me. Julie: In August 2014, we learned about the local group of Veterans who wanted to bring wounded heroes here to Pensacola Beach for fun, fishing and socializing. They called their group AHERO. This would be their Warrior Hook-Up Weekend. They needed a great place with terrific food, where the Veterans could relax. Well, we knew our Grand Marlin has both. WS: Members of your staff volunteered to help?
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Julie: Absolutely. We started with around twenty. Then almost everyone wanted in. This year it’s been about a hundred, maybe more. WS: They sound really motivated. Julie: They look forward to it every year! Even without being paid, they want to give back to those who risked everything to protect our country, our freedom. It’s just an incredible honor to do it. WS: What about you, personally? How important is it to you to be part of it? Julie: It’s a blessing, a chance to say, “Thank you” in the best way I can. We found that so many of our employees have served, and that our board chairman’s father was a naval aviator for 32 years.
WS: Sometimes folks don’t realize that Veterans are everywhere around the country. We’ve discovered that, once learning about AHERO, other communities start their own AHERO chapter. They have fund raisers like Tough Mudders or golf tournaments, or special weekend events to support America’s wounded heroes in their own style. Julie: People like our board chairman, a former Marine, will do that. The Grand Marlin’s support of the military has been strong since we opened more than seven years ago. We love contributing great food to the Elks Lodge with its many Veterans. Now AHERO is part of our family.
AHERO’S FULL-CIRCLE IMPACT
AHERO’s all-volunteer members give injured and wounded Veterans and currently serving
by Destyn Patera
warriors a chance to be reintroduced to
Almost four years ago, my videography
civilian life. At the same time, they are giving
partner, Austin Owens, and I were introduced
civilians the chance to relate to the trials and
to AHERO on Pensacola Beach during their
trauma these individuals have suffered.
annual Warrior Hook-Up event. We were
We have personally seen how AHERO opens
asked to lend a hand in getting video coverage
the door to camaraderie and understanding–
of the weekend’s events.
–a full-circle way for anyone to contribute. But
It was a humbling opportunity, but one we never
to my knowledge, there is nothing quite like
knew would impact us the way it did. We’ve
the fellowship, acceptance and spirit-building
worked with several nonprofits throughout
outdoor enjoyment that AHERO provides that
the U.S. but AHERO is one of a kind, and has
is anything like what any other charity or
inspired us to not only come back every year,
Veterans group offers.
but to be more aware of the issues associated
Simply said, AHERO nurtures a sense of
with our wounded Veterans.
community among its participants. Which
At Lensea, our production company, we believe
is why we at Lensea continue to offer our
a story has the power to inspire, to teach, and
help in telling AHERO’s story in ways to
to breathe life. We know that the best way to
raise awareness about the loneliness and
reach someone is to relate to them, to provide
AHERO’s unique approach in events like its
them with an experience that feels hands-on.
challenges America’s bravest face that too
Warrior Hook-Up does just that.
often put them at dire risk of suicide.
MUSIC4AHERO / DREAM PROJECT COMPILATION By Raela Marie Villanueva - Emerald Coast Pixie Productions
I had joined forces with Culinary Productions, Inc., on their 2013 Gourmet Dinner Night to raise funds for AHERO, when I first heard Major (then Captain) Lee Stuckey tell his story. I lost my younger brother (“Junior”) to suicide 21 years ago, so listening to one who had survived his own suicide attempt hit me hard. This was someone who had been at the same desperate point as my brother, but some divine intervention had spared his family the tragedy mine had suffered. After Junior’s death, I had become an advocate for suicide-prevention awareness. And somewhere on that path, a poem I wrote called “the Dream” became a song. He had come to me in a dream after he died, to say goodbye. “The Dream” became two CD volumes of all-original songs called the DREAM Project Compilation, with songs donated by music artists who had been affected by suicide, depression, addiction, etc., or who simply wanted to be part of the
movement to end the stigma surrounding mental-health issues. The DREAM Project Compilation is used as an awareness-raising tool. The CD’s list suicide’s warning signs and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800 number on the back and sales benefit different suicide-prevention organizations. Proceeds from Volume 2, for instance, benefit AHERO. Volume 3 is under way for 2018 and will carry the Crisis Text Line. We held the DREAM Project Compilation release party for Volume 2 in conjunction with the AHERO Warrior Hook-Up Weekend back in 2016. I had picked up my brother’s guitar by then, learning the chords to the 2nd version of “the Dream,” and I performed it accompanied by New Orleans’ Rurik Nunan on violin. It was a beautiful experience for me. The Tyler Mac Band also played, along with New Orleans bands Dave Jordan & the NIA,
and Chris Mule and Sam Price of Honey Island Swamp Band, who had donated songs to volume 2. Wrapping up AHERO ‘s Warrior HookUp weekend with an afternoon of music, art, auction, and raffle in the sun was a huge success - and all for AHERO. Paradise Bar & Grill, a great indoor and outdoor venue, has offered to have the event yearly. The 2017 event brought Veteran Josh Garrett and his band. Major Stuckey performed his song “Fallen Heroes” accompanied by Cody James on guitar and Cody gave us a few of his own great original songs. The mission of the DREAM Project Compilation that my brother Junior inspired is to continue reaching out to raise awareness about suicide prevention through music, and to invite popular artists to join the movement. Future volumes will keep coming with songs from other songwriters… because when it comes to preventing suicide and saving lives, there is no competition. Collaboration is the key.
FOR MORE ON THE DREAM PROJECT COMPILATION, VISIT DREAMPROJECTCD.COM AHERO EVENT GUIDE
CATERING FOR CHARITY: CHEF MIKE DESORBO’S LABOR OF LOVE By Raela Marie Villanueva
Culinary Productions, Inc. (CPI) has been serving the Gulf Coast area since 2004. With more that 21 years of experience, owner and chef Mike DeSorbo provides superb food and services that elevate events of all types. Since 2013, when he first gifted AHERO with his catering services for its annual Warrior HookUp Weekend’s fish fry, Chef Mike and his staff have been frying the Veterans’ catch after their deep-sea adventures. It’s something he and his staff (and the rest of us) look forward to every year. In December 2013, Mike joined forces with Emerald Coast Pixie Productions to host a private fundraiser for AHERO
that featured a live-music dinner with the Revivalists, Hotel Oscar, and Nick & The Ovorols at Versailles, in Pensacola. The dinner was a prelude to a sold-out performance at Vinyl Music Hall that night. This was also a special night for me, as I learned about AHERO and heard Major Lee Stuckey tell his story. CPI has raised more than $23,000 for local charities through such events as its Gourmet Dinner Night, when guests view a featured artist’s work and bid on pieces in a silent auction. Live music, door prizes, and Chef Mike D’s savory foods are enjoyed. Charities who benefit from CPI’s fundraising events include:
AHERO, Guitars for Vets, Active Minds at UWF, Art Party X, and Pensacola Movember. CPI offers free consultations in person or by phone. Any person, business or group would do well to put their next Gulf Coast event in the capable hands of CPI.
TO BOOK AN EVENT OR LEARN MORE, VISITCULINARYPRODUCTIONS.NET OR CALL (850) 469-0445
VETERANS SUPPORTING VETERANS: A FAMILY TRADITION Charlie & Fran Switzer, both Navy Veterans, have been supporters of charitable causes in the Florida Panhandle for many years. Coming from a long tradition of military service to country and service to others, the Switzer family has long supported organizations that give a hand up. AHERO is one of those. Charlie has been involved with AHERO from its beginning. “A close friend, a retired Marine officer, got me involved,” he says. “He suggested putting together a fishing trip for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. I was hooked, since I happen to love fishing.” Charlie was introduced to USMC Major Lee Stuckey, who described his vision of getting injured active-service members and Veterans into outdoor experiences to lift their spirits. “Once I met Major Stuckey, I was all in,” Charlie says. ”He and his AHERO group exemplify the motto Semper Fi.”
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ON BEHALF OF THE WOUNDED AND INJURED MILITARY VETERANS AND ACTIVE-DUTY MEMBERS IT SERVES,
WISHES TO EXPRESS ITS DEEP AND SINCERE GRATITUDE TO
THE PENSACOLA BEACH ELKS CLUB #497 FOR ITS YEARS OF GENEROUS AND STEADFAST SUPPORT. EACH YEAR, THE ELKS CLUB LODGE EXTENDS A WARM WELCOME TO OUR WARRIOR HOOK-UP WEEKEND PARTICIPANTS AT AN EVENT IN THEIR HONOR. AS HOSTS OF THE WARRIOR HOOK-UP DINNER, THE HIGHLY RESPECTED, CIVICMINDED ELKS–MANY OF THEM MILITARY RETIREES AND VETERANS THEMSELVES– PROVIDE A FABULOUS MEAL AND DELIGHTFUL EVENING PROGRAM AT THEIR FACILITY MARINA-SIDE ON PENSACOLA BEACH. THROUGHOUT THE YEAR, INDIVIDUAL ELKS HELP GROW THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THEIR CLUB AND AHERO. EACH PERSON NAMED BELOW REPRESENTS HIS FELLOW ELKS AND THROUGH EACH, AHERO SALUTES THEM ALL, AND SAYS
THANK YOU! J TO SANDY MILBURN FOR THE GRANT APPROVAL, CONSISTENT LOGISTICS SUPPORT AND PERSONAL
EFFORT TO DEVELOP AHERO’S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE ELKS
J TO EXALTED RULER JIM ROZE FOR BEING OUR AHERO MARINE ON THE INSIDE PROVIDING US
WITH “TOP COVER”
J TO KEN (KB) BRANCH FOR HIS PREVIOUS EXALTED RULER ROLE AND HIS LOVE AND SUPPORT OF AHERO
AND THE VETERANS IT SERVES
J TO PJ IMHOFF, A FORMER NAVY SAILOR, WHOSE SURVIVAL THROUGH AN AIRCRAFT CRASH AT SEA
AND THE BITES OF ATTACKING SHARKS INSPIRES US––FOR PROVIDING TRANSPORTATION FOR OUR VISITING VETERANS TO AND FROM THE PENSACOLA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT FOR THE WARRIOR HOOK-UP EACH AND EVERY YEAR
J TO WALT KOSTEVICKI FOR HIS PRINTING CONTACTS AND CONNECTION TO THE PENSACOLA
RECREATIONAL FISHERMAN’S ASSOCIATION
J TO MIKE RIOS, THE MAINTENANCE VOLUNTEER, WHOSE EFFORTS KEEP US COMFORTABLE AT
AHERO EVENTS AHERO EVENT GUIDE
BAMBOO WILLIE’S: THE INSPIRATION OF THE AHERO EXPERIENCE By Robert Gleim - General Manager, Bamboo Willie’s
I enjoy being a part of AHERO’s Warrior Hookup Weekend on Pensacola Beach, having had the pleasure of seeing the amazing event grow over the last several years. Because our business is located in the Florida Panhandle, we are constantly immersed in a military atmosphere, which reminds us daily just how blessed we are. So when we were approached for help by AHERO Board Member Dave Glassman–well, how can you say no to the G-Man? We were all in! When I think about all the sacrifices our Veterans have made for the safety and betterment of our country and community, it makes me humble and proud of all of them. We as a community can give back to these wounded warriors in their time of need by continuing this journey with AHERO. Bamboo Willie’s first opened in July 1998 on the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk. Since opening, we’ve created several yearly events including the Beach Famous Crawfish Festival, which is always held in April. Every year, we reach out to local branches of the military for volunteers through the Pensacola Beach Chamber of Commerce. I must say, these events would not run as smoothly as they do without the support of our military volunteers. These service members have helped us strive to be more and grow, not only as a business but as part of the community. Over the past 19 years, our commitment to employing Veterans has been instrumental in the professional growth of Bamboo Willie’s.
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A CIVILIAN’S VIEW OF AHERO–FROM 10,000 FEET By Pat Baril
When I decided to make a move to Pensacola in 1983 from Bloomington, Minn., I was fairly oblivious of the military. My father had been in the Army during the Korean War, but he rarely discussed his service. I’d seen my mom freak out as Vietnam raged when my older brother was of drafting age, but I didn’t understand anything about that part of the world. Why were we there? Why did we leave? I was naive. Pensacola is a community of active duty, Veteran and retired military members. You can’t help but appreciate their service. Eventually I was befriended by a U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant. To this day, we kid about how he weaseled his way into my life via a close friend. Fact is, I value and cherish the relationship with all my heart. It’s hard to believe that nowretired jarhead doesn’t mind being seen with a former punk like me!
Bamboo Willie’s will always be a Veteran-friendly establishment with live music, our view of the beach, and the convenience of being able to dock your boat. I have to say that one of my greatest joys is seeing the boats coming back into the marina after a day’s worth of fishing. The smiles on the faces of the participants after the Warrior Hook-Up event just fills me with pride!
My life as a patriot began as Marine Corps life became known to me. I was blown away by the discipline, perseverance and lifelong loyalty of our warriors to one another and to this country. It is nothing less than inspiring. Fast forward to when I became acquainted with USMC Maj. Lee Stuckey, then a captain, just as AHERO in Pensacola was being “born” as a 501(c) (3) charity. From the moment I heard about its goals, I was in. My beautiful wife, Tara, and I have been contributing and participating in AHERO events ever since. We’ve watched AHERO Warrior Hook-Up weekend fishing trips grow from a single charter boat to veritable flotilla of privately owned vessels, courtesy of this amazingly supportive community. Always the stories of our participating AHERO warriors, some severely wounded or hurting, have been riveting in the way they make this civilian
understand what he could not grasp years ago: brain injuries, limbs blown off, friends killed while standing beside them … all the reasons PTSD and suicide so relentlessly haunt our Veterans. AHERO cares passionately about each one of our brave men and women in uniform. Working year-round, AHERO volunteers strive to identify at-risk Veterans and get them help in whatever way possible. Each year, the organization provides all the necessary items for as many participants as it can to enjoy a long weekend of activities in Pensacola’s warm and wonderful community. Each warrior guest has a different condition to contend with, so logistics and arrangements can be mind-boggling. But AHERO volunteers do it. From transportation and lodging, to limitations-accommodating boating and fishing, it’s fascinating to see how they and their dedicated band of community residents get the job done. I hope you will join them with donations of cash or your time as a volunteer, or both. With zero paid staff and a tiny overhead budget, nearly 100 percent of everything you give will go to these heroes who have given so much to us, including to this once-punk–but now unbelievably humbled and grateful–kid from Minnesota! Note from AHERO: Pat and Tara Baril are perfect examples of the citizens who, on their own, reach out to those who have defended the country, suffering the wounds that now compromise their lives. Each year since its inception, the deeply grateful AHERO organization has received a $1000 from the Barils to help pay for our most impactful Gulf Coast event, the Pensacola Beach Warrior Hook-Up Weekend.
AHERO EVENT GUIDE
HAWAIIAN CUISINE SAYS “MAHALO NUI LOA!” TO OUR WARRIORS By Paul and Deborah Palpallatoc - Aloha Grill
The phrase Mahalo nui loa means thank you, and it comes from our heart. Our Papa Nalu Aloha Grill is a family-owned Hawaiian-fusion restaurant, established in Gulf Breeze in 2007. My wife and I both come from military (US Air Force) families and love it here in the Panhandle. We have always taken pride in those men and women who make the ultimate sacrifice. So, when AHERO brought its wounded warriors to our area for the first Warrior Hook-Up, we felt honored to participate by offering dishes of our own cuisine to add to the Weekend’s feast. And we’ve been delighted to be part of AHERO’s campaign and this event every year since then. Our recipes, which use only clean, fresh food, come from a long line of many cultures from Hawaii that bonded together using their foods to show love and encourage families and friends to share stories. As I was growing up, some of my best times were preparing and cooking Hawaiian foods with other military families when stationed overseasspreading aloha (which also means love) and creating an ohana (family) with other Americans is something I will always remember.
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We know that experiencing other countries and cultures can be a great blessing. It can reinforce your understanding of what freedom is, and that you have the ability to follow your drive no matter who or where you are. The preciousness of this freedom is represented by the brave men and women who fought for it, putting the greatest risk on the line: the risk of losing their future and their lives. We appreciate the AHERO Foundation for giving us the opportunity to do something like this in our own community. From the first dinner we hosted, we have seen such an outpouring of support and it has been nice to see the number of Veterans participating grow. These men and women deserve not only recognition, but the time to join together in a common space and form lasting friendships based on common achievements and a brotherhood like no other. May you continue to grow in numbers by finding each other and be blessed with the knowledge that you are loved for your commitment to our country. Aloha kakou–thank you so much!
AHERO responds: Right back at you, Paul and Deborah! You have not only helped make each Warrior Hook-Up Weekend extra tasty with your delectable food contributions, you’ve also proudly hung each event’s official poster or photo on your Aloha Grill “AHERO wall.” We hope all our readers will head over to the Grill for your mouthwatering cuisine–and to see Warrior Hook-Up 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 prominently displayed!
A REFLECTION By Tristessa - CEO, Fishin’ Chix
I had the opportunity to speak to an AHERO Veteran recently. We talked into the evening about his combat experience. I listened intently, breathing the crisp night air and noticing the stars twinkling brighter than I could remember. Around us, the low hum of boat motors kept a steady rhythm. What could have been an emotional roller coaster spent fighting back tears of pain and fear became a cathartic bantering about our somehow similar torments–a sharing. As a civilian living with the effects of sustained trauma, I have struggled to find others I could relate to in my life. I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted to give up, tired of living in fear of myself or my surroundings. Or found myself standing in line at a grocery store when the terror of my past creeps in because the cashier suddenly triggers some nightmare. Or hearing a loud noise that opens that file I thought I had closed. But on that night, I found a person I could relate to fully.
embrace the stories and memories behind why women fish or want to learn to fish. For many of us, when we cast our line into the water, what we are really doing is reaching deep into our hearts. We’re thinking of the loved ones we once fished with, seeking that connection, filled with the unknown of what is beneath the water. We are a community of women
across the nation who fish in rivers and streams, in deep, blue lakes, and off shores, piers and beaches. Wherever you fish, we welcome you to join out fishing revolution. We are looking forward to continuing our support of the AHERO mission in 2018, beginning with this Memorial Day’s Fishing4AHERO Fishing Rodeo.
The mission of AHERO is intended to highlight the struggles of military Veterans living with PTSD. As an AHERO volunteer, I am not a Veteran, but I found myself among those who could understand what I’ve been through. Neither therapist nor simply a friend with a kind heart, the individual I spoke with was someone who shared and could help me express feelings I had blocked for decades. We are in this together, I thought. OUR COMPANY CONNECTS US I like to say Fishin’ Chix, was built of survival instincts. Much like AHERO, it represents the triumph of survivors. Born following the impacts of Hurricane Ivan, the company was founded by a community of women who needed an outlet, a sense of control over the devastation the hurricane wrought. “I need to feed my people” was the mantra on which we were founded. We enjoy fishing, but more importantly, we AHERO EVENT GUIDE
PENSACOLA BEACH SONGWRITER’S FESTIVAL 2017 By Raela Marie Villanueva
The 9th Annual Pensacola Beach Songwriter’s Festival (PBSF) held October 6th to the 9th in 2017, wasn’t blown away by Hurricane Nate, a category 1 storm that grazed the Pensacola area coast before making landfall near Biloxi, Miss. Nate spared the event’s inaugural Veteran’s Night “Honoring our Songwriting Warriors,” when a dozen songwriting Veterans performed an intimate show at the Beach Church before an audience of more than 100. One song that hit home was “Military Man,” performed by Nashville songwriter Pearl Clarkin, a Pensacola native who wrote it for her father. Told from a daughter’s perspective, the song had me immediately tearing up thinking of my own father, a Veteran who passed last year.
USMC Veteran Cody James performed several original songs, sharing his story of triumph surviving a deadly helicopter crash on a mountain in Afghanistan. James is currently working on his first album which shares his story. Read more about this remarkable singer-songwriter and his experience on page 28. Well-known songwriters on stage that night included Mike Diamond who has opened for Charlie Daniels and Taylor Swift. Having artists with such legendary status together in a show with first-timers demonstrates the diversity of this event. Navy Veteran Sailor Jerri performed her own lyrics to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” music; her version describes a soldier’s life on and off the battlefield. “It was a highlight of the night when Jerri performed,” says emcee Greg Penglis,
“Action Radio” talk show host for WEBY 1330 AM Radio. Jerri accompanied her song with a video she’d made using images of service members on active duty. The video had gone viral on You Tube and she’d only begun playing guitar about a year before. “I didn’t know what to expect as emcee,” Penglis confessed. “I’d never hosted a songwriter festival before one of the founding members of AHERO asked me. I couldn’t turn him down. He’s a friend who has introduced me to the Veteran community and has helped me put together the monthly Veterans show I do on WEBY.” The standing-room-only crowd was attentive throughout Veterans Songwriters night, enjoying fresh, tasty Greek dishes provided by Spyros Gyros, as well as drinks and mingling beforehand. “Those singing were representing Veterans of who have PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and chronic pain,” says Penglis. “Vets who have suffered through divorces and years of sometimes questionable rehabilitation by the VA. Many have been through aircraft crashes, IEDs blowing up, combat of all kinds, and “The songwriters who performed on the PBSF Veteran Songwriters Night used music to offer insight into their military experience, but also into the trials of coming home. Some of us use music to heal, some sing to connect with others …. and some to just zone out and escape. I’m honored but humbled to be a part of those who performed.” Sailor Jerri Navy Veteran
Sailor Jerri sings against the backdrop of her video “Hallelujah - Veterans Version. 28 AHERO EVENT GUIDE
Operation “Music is so powerful. transition Song helped me through my lian. On civi from Army chaplain to red that I that journey, I’ve discove that music am not the only Veteran like AHERO helps. I love it that groups ing for our and Operation Song are car sic. It’s a “tribe” (Veterans) through mu ying with lot of fun listening to and pla o are also other singer-songwriters wh Veterans.”
losing their closest friends.” Too often, as AHERO has shown us, the loss of a Veteran is to suicide. “Sometimes,” Penglis says thoughtfully, “the best way to deal with it, to explain it to yourself, is to write it down into a song and share it with others in a group setting where you get immediate feedback. The Veteran songwriter has chosen a uniquely successful path to recovery for themselves and potentially for any Veteran privileged to listen.”
Army Chaplain Matthew Ow (Ret.)
YOUR SUPPORT IS MUSIC TO AHERO’S EARS! MUSIC IS NOURISHMENT FOR THE MIND. MENTAL HEALTH, MUCH LIKE ITS PHYSICAL COUNTERPART, RELIES ON GOOD FUEL. WORDS AND MELODIES CAN PROVIDE POWERFUL “CALORIES.” BUT STARTING ANY NEW DIET IS ALWAYS HARD. SIMILARLY, THE THEMES AND STORIES IN THE SONGS OUR VETERAN SONGWRITERS WRITE AND SING EMBRACE A BRUTAL TRUTH–BUT WITH MEDICINAL FINESSE. THESE HEROES HAVE GIVEN US THEIR HEARTS. HELP US WIN BACK THEIR PEACE OF MIND. THESE MEN AND WOMEN ARE PROUD. THEY SHOULD BE. THEY SHIELDED US FROM HARM. PLEASE HELP US REBUILD THEIR ARMOR. ONCE THE PATH OF HEALING BEGINS, MUSIC BECOMES THEIR ALLY–AND OURS.
AHERO EVENT GUIDE
LEAVING THE MOUNTAIN BEHIND By Connie Conway
Capt. Cody James, USMC ret., originally came to Pensacola, Florida, to receive naval flight training, but the New Jerseyborn singer/songwriter would ultimately decide to make the area his permanent home. The Gulf Coast’s warm weather and natural beauty suited him. After enduring a long, painful recovery since the crash that almost killed him in the mountains of Afghanistan in early 2002, Cody felt the stress-free atmosphere could help him move on. What he didn’t know was that it would also introduce him to the area’s very active AHERO organization. Or that, as an AHERO participant, he would learn from fellow Veterans how to feel joy again and regain the sometimes-elusive desire to stay alive. It had taken him 10 years to overcome his addiction to the opiate-based drugs prescribed to him after the devastating crash that killed two of his fellow Marines. “But there was still my PTS and depression to be dealt with,” Cody says. “I knew those were all about the mountain.” That mountain was where the CH-53E “Super Stallion” he was co-piloting went down when it suffered engine failure. The broke Cody’s back. It was winter, and as yet early in the Afghan war. He lay for hours freezing in the snow, enduring excruciating pain as he and four surviving Marines waited to be rescued. With every passing hour, he felt closer to death. “This was bad-guy territory, and we knew it,” Cody says. “We watched the lead helicopter circle our crash site looking for survivors. Apparently, they didn’t see anyone, so they left.” He pauses, then adds, “Watching that helicopter fly off was the loneliest moment of my life.” Eventually they were picked up, but that would be just the start of Cody’s battles. After surgery, the opiate drugs he was put on for pain were overprescribed, catching him in a net of addiction. “They fed into my need to isolate in 30 AHERO EVENT GUIDE
order to avoid bad things,” he explains. “I was always worried something horrible was about to happen. The staggering amount of time I spent avoiding social interaction caused paranoia and a fear of feeling exposed–of being vulnerable, the way I had been on the mountain.” Somehow, he managed to break free of drugs. Years had been stolen from him, but he was ready to take his life back. He remembered Pensacola, picturing the area’s white beaches, emerald waters and peaceful places, and decided to locate to one of its premiere communities: Gulf Breeze, only minutes from Pensacola Beach. Though glad about the move, his progress was slow, Cody says. “There were bouts when the mountain took over. Self-isolation would lead to depression, leading to more isolation.” Then, in the summer of 2016, he heard about AHERO’s Warrior Hook-Up, an area event that was scheduled soon. He read up on AHERO’s mission to counter the rapidly escalating rate of suicide among active military members and Veterans, and resolved to attend. “I had been all over the world, but was taken aback by the level of community support for that AHERO event,” Cody says. “I saw local residents offering their time and boats for use, and area restaurants donating food and drinks–all to give Veterans a great day on the water.” Being a part of AHERO can put a chink in anyone’s armor of isolation. Soon after the Warrior Hook-Up, Cody decided to get involved. He attended events like the 2017 inaugural Fishing4AHERO fundraiser and soon was helping to plan and help with other AHERO activities.
Then came the 2017 Pensacola Songwriters Festival. “I’d been playing guitar since tenth grade,” Cody says. “Now I was writing songs. AHERO’s Songwriting Veterans Night during the Pensacola Beach Songwriters Festival this past year was a good place to start performing them.” The event’s impact on furthering his writing and musicianship was instant. “It encouraged me to go on reaching deep for my songs,” he says. After the weekend, he began recording his first EP. One of the songs the audience heard that night was the haunting “On the Mountain.” Honest and raw, its words seem to come straight from the center of Cody’s soul. As such, they reflect perfectly what so many of our brave Warriors still struggle to leave behind.
ON THE MOUNTAIN Lyrics and music by Cody James
It’s cold as hell on the mountain - & I’ve been laying there..... too long. Waiting for a rescue.... Feeling left behind. Can’t feel hands or feet now - Things are freezing up....inside. This might be the ending - Said all my goodbyes... twice. And up from the snow come the icicles that wrap around and penetrate my brain. And up in the sky, it’s quiet now, except for smoke from burning wreck. And I live with it all. Sometimes I try. To live with it all.... Sometimes I’m high. I’m still stuck on the mountain, it’s with me every day certainly. It shows up uninvited.... and makes a mess of things. The mountain warps my thinking..... and keeps me locked inside. Sometimes. I don’t want these feelings, but I don’t wanna die. No! ‘Cause up from the snow come the icicles that wrap around and penetrate my brain. And up in the sky, its quiet now, except for smoke from burning wreck. Yes it is. And I live with it all. Sometimes I try. To live with it all.... Sometimes I’m high. To live with it all.... Sometimes I cry. To live with it all.... Sometimes I lie. ‘Cause up from the snow come the icicles that wrap around and penetrate my brain. And up in the sky, it’s quiet now, except for smoke from burning wreck. Yes it is.
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