A group of wounded military service members enjoyed a fishing weekend in Calhoun County thanks to a non-profit group known as Combat Marine Outdoors.
CMO provides outdoor excursions and other events all over the country, and with the help of local fishermen and fishing guides, the organization brought several service members and their support groups to Calhoun County last weekend for four days of fishing and an opportunity to get away from hospital beds and needle pricks.
“Mike Campbell called people and he and his team got boats together and took us out on the coast,” said Arturo G. Garcia, a founding member of the non-profit group. “These guys sit in the hospital and wait for their next doctors’ appointment or procedure. There is no hospital or doctor or medicine like what being outdoors can do to put smiles on their faces.”
Throughout the weekend, local fishing guides took the service members out on fishing trips. They were also treated to catered dinners in the evenings, and received an escort into town from area law enforcement agencies.
One of the volunteers for the weekend, fishing guide Butch Hodges, took out service members to fish every day of the event. He even went out Sunday morning to help a Marine who, up until then, had not caught a fish. Before 8 a.m., Hodges had helped the Marine max out his daily limit for fish.
“This program helps get these guys out of the hole they’ve dug and gives them an opportunity to get out and let them learn that they are still able to do something like that,” Hodges said. “It helps bring them a long ways down that road to recovery.”
On the last evening of the four-day weekend, a ceremony was held to recognize the event’s volunteers and sponsors. Service members also had a chance to share their stories and testimonies about how the program has helped them.
For Hodges, who served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, the weekend offered him a chance to heal his own wounds.
“Saturday night when they had their closing ceremony, they honored me because I’m a disabled vet even though I’m from a different era. They honored me and I don’t know what to say. We never got a welcome home and they made me feel more welcome than I’ve felt in 44 years,” Hodges said. “I’ve been in a hole a long time and I crawled out this weekend.”
The trip last weekend was the group’s third annual visit to Calhoun County. They plan to return to Calhoun County roughly the same time next year.
The program began in 2005 as a way to get wounded Marines out of hospitals and to the outdoors. When Garcia, a master gunnery sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, and Col. Alan L. Orr of the U.S. Army met with Rusty Hicks, the current president of the organization, the 501-c3 non-profit group Combat Marine Outdoors was formed. Although it began as a way to help U.S. Marines, CMO has extended its opportunities to the men and women of all military branches into an environment where they can interact with other wounded peers to help the healing process through camaraderie and friendship.