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Operation Open Arms helps soldier from Cape enjoy leave; Gummerman headed back to Iraq for a third tour

By Staff | Sep 29, 2008

Cape Coral mother Debbie Tedesco spent the last two weeks saying goodbye to her son, Specialist Rob Gummerman, before he returned for his third deployment in Iraq.

Although they’ve had to say goodbye twice before under similar circumstances, the end of this two-week leave was unique because they discovered Operation Open Arms.

The program matches local businesses with troops on leave to provide benefits such as golf or fishing trips, accommodations and gift certificates to restaurants and stores. It was started in 2005 by Capt. John “GiddyUp” Bunch as a unique program to the Pine Island community, but over the last three years it has expanded throughout Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties.

“This is Rob’s third deployment and I wasn’t aware of Operation Open Arms,” she said. “I happened to bump into a mother whose son was a Marine. She shared with me about it.”

In the program, troops on leave have access to high speed boat rides, charter fishing, golf at a number of courses in Fort Myers and Naples, kayaking and parasailing.

Debbie said that when they first contacted the Greater Pine Island Chamber of Commerce, representatives presented Rob with a gift certificate to Wal-Mart and a food voucher to Pizza Hut.

Later they went to the Sandy Hook in Pine Island where employees and customers congratulated and thanked Rob for his service in the military. She said that everyone in the restaurant was compelled to give him a hug.

“All of the staff members congratulated him and wished him well,” explained Debbie. “This was a new experience for him, he had never experienced this outpouring of patriotism.”

Later, the Key West Express, a ferry out of Fort Myers Beach, presented Rob with two complimentary tickets and during his leave he visited the island with some of his friends.

Rob later described the trip as “fantastic,” and the captain even made an announcement to everyone aboard that Rob was on military leave.

On Saturday, his goodbye lunch was at Bert’s Bar & Grill where one of the waitresses shared with them that her brother had just returned from Iraq.

Debbie said that the restaurant was full of letters and thank you notes from those on leave in the past who participated in the program.

Later on Saturday, Rob rented a car and drove to Miami to make his flight into Germany. Debbie said that she hasn’t been notified of where Rob will be deployed after arriving in Germany.

“We are overwhelmed by the way these individuals made this leave the most outstanding,” she said.

Now she wants to ensure that other troops on leave know about the Operation Open Arms program and how it can make a two-week leave the best possible.

“When they come back and they are here, I want them to know that these people are here,” she said.

Before leaving on Saturday, Rob told his mother that the end of this leave was very different from his others. He said this time he felt “the home town is wishing him well.” And Debbie added that this brings morale to the local soldiers.

“Morale for our troops is invaluable,” she said. “My boy and these American heroes don’t have the time to stop and see what is going on. They only have time to protect us.”